In 1968 John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, all still in their twenties, were the most famous humans on the planet. The band they had formed eight years previously in Liverpool, The Beatles, had reinvented the notion of fame. As John had said they were, “More famous than Jesus.” It seemed they had everything.But they, and George in particular, were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the trappings of fame as they watched their lives become less about the music that had motivated them to form a band in the first place and become evermore what they saw as vacuous celebrity.
In 2019 my daughter, Sorcha Fay, aged 18 and disillusioned with the trappings of modern life in London and Madrid, was also drawn to the wispy thin air of the Himalayas. For her it was to train to become a yoga teacher. We travelled together in February 2020. I had been a fan of the Beatles as a teenager and especially George Harrison. I stayed in India for two weeks and Sorcha for seven weeks. We swam in the icy waters of the Ganges every morning. I had known about the Beatles time in Rishikesh but hadn’t known where it was until Sorcha booked her yoga course.
I spent two days photographing the ashram.
It was down a dirt track on the edge of town. In1983 when the Ashram’s lease ran out and the Government of India took back the land and it is now part of a nature reserve and has fallen into decay. It was recently opened to the public although fans had been breaking in for years and painting graffiti on the walls in homage to the band.
While the ghosts of John, Paul, George and Ringo are ever present and linger in the cracks of the crumbling walls and the fading paint of the bungalow they lived in, their presence is not a heavy one. There is a lightness to the place, as the ancient forest gently reclaims it and it sinks back into the mountain.
During their time at the Ashram the Beatles had what is arguably their most creative period writing the backbone of what would go on to be both, The White Album and, Let it Be.
Paul McCartney now lives between London and the Isle of Mull in Scotland and Ringo Starr lives in Los Angeles.
On December 8th 1980 as the winter sun was sinking over the New York skyline, John Lennon was shot dead in the street outside his Manhattan apartment.
George Harrison practised the teachings he learnt in Rishikesh, and meditated every day, until he died peacefully in bed in California in 2001.