Beatles’ Indian hideaway comes together, 50 years on

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Tourists walk past the now-derelict house of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the ashram visited by the Beatles 50 years ago in Rishikesh, northern India. (AFP)
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Ajit Singh, a music shop owner, fixed John Lennon’s guitar and performed at George Harrison’s 25th birthday party when the Beatles stayed at an ashram in nearby Rishikesh in 1968. (AFP)
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A mural at the now-derelict ashram visited by the Beatles 50 years ago in Rishikesh, northern India. (AFP)
Updated 13 August 2018
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Beatles’ Indian hideaway comes together, 50 years on

  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram fell into disuse in the early 2000s
  • thanks to the efforts of a group of locals, the site has been reclaimed from the jungle

RISHIKESH: Fifty years after the Beatles came to India, the bungalows where the Fab Four lived, the post office where John Lennon sent Yoko Ono postcards and the giggling guru’s house are all ruins.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, where the world’s most famous group sought refuge and spirituality in 1968 and wrote much of their seminal “White Album,” fell into disuse in the early 2000s.
But thanks to the efforts of a group of locals, the site has been reclaimed from the jungle and tourists now roam where tigers and snakes were until recently the most common day trippers.
“Before, people used to sneak in, which could be dangerous,” said local journalist Raju Gusain, instrumental in rescuing the area overlooking Rishikesh in northern India.
“There used to be leopard paw marks and elephant dung,” he said on a tour of the site. “Now we have erected a fence to stop animals getting in from the tiger reserve next door.”
By 1968, following the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein the year before, fissures were beginning to show between John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
But the group found a new mentor: the magnetic Maharishi who promised them happiness and enlightenment without drugs, through transcendental meditation.
The bushy-bearded sage persuaded them to travel to his spiritual retreat in Rishikesh, and so in February 1968 they fetched up with their partners, not knowing quite what to expect.
A world away from “Swinging London,” the band appeared to reconnect, penning almost 50 new songs.
Others there included fellow musicians Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love, actress Mia Farrow and her reclusive sister Prudence, inspiration for Lennon’s song “Dear Prudence.”
The local wildlife — although the song is also supposedly about heroin or Yoko Ono — inspired “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” as well as “Blackbird.”
McCartney wrote “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” after seeing monkeys openly copulating, while Love’s presence helped spark “Back in the USSR,” a pastiche of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”
The band — with the exception of Starr, who brought a supply of baked beans due to his sensitive stomach and left after 10 days — enjoyed the break and the meditation too.
“I felt like I actually was a feather floating over a hot-air pipe,” McCartney recalled later of one session. “And I reported that to Maharishi, and he giggled: ‘Yes, this is good!’”
One local old enough to remember is Ajit Singh, the owner of a music shop — still open — in the nearby town of Dehradun, who fixed Lennon’s guitar and performed at Harrison’s 25th birthday.
Turbaned, thin and with a croaky voice, the 86-year-old Singh recalls with twinkling eyes the band wandering into the store one day, pursued by a crowd outside, and him “inviting them home for tea.”
“They were very polite with me, they were not haughty or something,” he said in his shop. “I always said to people that they were good people.”
After a while though, relations worsened between the Beatles and the Maharishi, the atmosphere soured by the yogi’s rumored sexual advances and his evident desire to make money from his famous new pupils.
McCartney left after five weeks and Harrison and Lennon after two months. Asked the reason by the yogi, Lennon is reputed to have told the guru, “If you’re so cosmic you’ll know why.”
But still, the Beatles helped put Rishikesh on the map for Westerners, and popularized meditation and Eastern spirituality. The Maharishi even made the cover of Time magazine in 1975.
His ashram initially thrived but then went into decline and was abandoned in 2001. Nature slowly reclaimed the site, while parts of the buildings were removed and people sneaked in and left graffiti.
But in 2016, paths were cleared, a fence was put up and some of the structures were repaired. Ruins they remain, however, although a few new murals have been added.
The site now charges an entry fee — 600 rupees ($8.75) for foreigners, 150 rupees for Indians — and boasts a cafe and a small photo exhibition and some information signs.
One recent visitor was none other than Prudence herself, said Raju Nautiyal, a ranger with the Rajasthan Tiger Reserve who has helped in the clean-up.
“I used to sing ‘Dear Prudence’ and one day Prudence came to play,” he said.
American visitor Atta Curzmann, 68, a “great Beatles fan” inspired to take a lasting interest in Indian spirituality, said she hoped the site would not be restored too much.
“The first time we came four or five years ago it was really run-down and we had to pay baksheesh (a bribe) to get in,” she said.
“But I hope they don’t make it too lovely and perfect because you want to see that antiquity, that part of it that shows the history.”


Head for heights: Jeddah teacher conquers Mount Kilimanjaro

Khulood Al-Fadhli and her brother Bader at Uhuru Peak. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Head for heights: Jeddah teacher conquers Mount Kilimanjaro

  • Khulood Al-Fadhli tells Arab News about the physical battle she won to ascend Africa’s highest peak
  • As soon as I reached Uhuru peak, all the exhaustion went away, remembers Al-Fadhli

JEDDAH: A 36-year-old Saudi-based Green Leaves Playgroup principal went on an extreme adventure in August by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. It was the first on her seven summits list.

Khulood Al-Fadhli said she had a love for adventures ever since she was a child.

“My father instilled a love for adventure in me. I remember 10-15 years ago, when Eid vacations were extremely cold, we used to camp in Asfan for two nights and climb Al-Qamar mountain, and I enjoyed climbing that mountain. So, climbing mountains was something within me since childhood,” she told Arab News.

“Fast-forward to who I am now, I still love it. I go to that area in Asfan, and sometimes I take my kids there and tell them, ‘This was my Eid’,” she added.

She halted these activities for a while. “At the beginning of my married life, I turned away from these adventures for a while. I was only focusing on raising my kids and my career, until this happened. I found a group that organizes these trips to Kilimanjaro, then I read about Mount Kilimanjaro and the process of climbing it. Climbing up takes you five days, descending the mountain takes you two.”

Al-Fadhli said It’s not about the peak, it’s about the journey itself. “I was really amazed when I read the things that happen within the journey.”

She explained that the effects of high altitudes could strike at any moment during the climb and can be life-threatening in certain cases. “It’s not about being mentally or physically fit. There’s a chance of getting altitude sickness, and I always say this altitude has a very bad attitude! Because high altitudes can cause one to feel nauseous or have a headache and dizziness. Sometimes the extreme ones are life-threatening; water fills in your lungs, or your brain. If any of these happen, you should immediately descend because it’s very dangerous. Alhamdulillah, nothing like that happened during my trip.”

She experienced severe headaches during her adventure. “The problem I suffered was on day two: I had an extreme headache. I was the only one who had this headache.

“Then on the third day, I had the headache again, alone. I was asking the guide ‘Will I have these excessive headaches every day and will I be the only one having them?’ He said, ‘This is just the altitude.’ That comforted me. I took some painkillers and it went away.

“The fourth day the headache came. The fifth day, which is the summit day, the push of the summit, I did not experience any headache.”

Al-Fadhli admits it's not all about reaching the peak. (Supplied)

The summit day was an eight-hour climb that started at midnight.

“We woke up at 11 p.m., had our dinner then started our trek, climbing up at 12 a.m. They told us from 5 p.m. to relax and try to sleep as much as possible because at 11 you have to wake up.”

“Imagine me knowing that I am going to the summit at 11, and it was 5 p.m. and I was in my tent. I couldn’t even close my eyes, I was really excited.

“I was afraid of a headache, afraid that it would become severe at the summit. because they say it’s the altitude. The summit is around 6,000 meters high. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.

“It was 11, my phone rang. It was time to start packing our backpacks. My Panadol Extra was in my pocket, ready for my severe headache. I’d just have to reach into my pocket.”

Summit 

The members of the group must proceed with extreme caution, she explained. “We started our day at midnight, but a lot of people were with us, so many different groups from so many different places, and on your way up to the summit, you don’t see anything. It’s just you, the mountain and the stars and the headband flashlights of the people you’re with.

“And you see the flashlight from the ground all the way to the summit. It was a really lovely route. You can’t see the summit because it’s dark. You don’t know if you are heading for a cliff because of the darkness, which is why you have to use your flashlight — focus on your steps and the person in front of you.”

Her group consisted of seven people, but the number decreased.

“We reached a point where one of the men in my group suddenly sat down and had to hold his head. I remember how he looked, and I was really worried about him. He wasn’t like this on day one. The guide said, ‘Well, it looks like a severe altitude sickness that affected him.’ He stayed with him and had a talk. When someone stays and delays the others, one guide stays with him. Either we all wait and stay, or we move and one guide stays with that person.

“The guide asked him if he was OK, but he felt dizzy and couldn’t continue. He said, ‘I’m going to descend.’ Then the guide informed us that the man was descending, and I was shocked. The strongest one among us pulled out.

“Two hours later, a lady felt dizzy. Her husband supported her and encouraged her to continue, and the guide also spoke to her. I was looking at them negotiating from far away. Five minutes later, they also pulled out. From the seven, three had pulled out, and only four were left.

“One of the girls got really tired. She stopped and said she wanted to take a rest for 20 minutes and didn’t want anyone to wait for her. The guide told me she wanted to relax and take baby steps and she would like to have excessive stops for 20 minutes so no one should wait for her. She could stay with a porter. Someone was with her.

“I couldn’t know anything about her, so we were only three. Me, my brother and a lady. One hour later — which was three hours away from the summit — the lady said there was something wrong with her heart. It was beating irregularly.

“Five minutes later, the guide came to me and said she had pulled out. And it was only me and my brother. And that’s when I asked, ‘Bader, do you think we can make it?’ Everyone had pulled out. It was really scary.

“Imagine, you’re a group of seven going up together, and one after another pulls out. I felt like I was in a horror movie. And above all, it was at night.”

Al-Fadhli witnessed a breathtaking view. “At 4:35 a.m., I started to see the sunrise between the huge cliffs. I saw the sunrise while I was going up, and was completely overwhelmed at the beauty of the site. I was trekking and I looked to my right and there it was, the sunrise and the mountains. The feeling was overwhelming,”

She experienced physical exhaustion, but pushed through and succeeded. “When we reached Stella point, which was one hour from the summit, there was a sign that said, ‘Congratulations, you reached Stella point.’

“Uhuru peak is the top, and Uhuru means freedom. So many people reach Stella point then become really exhausted from the seven-hour walk, ascending in the middle of the night in the cold. Most of the people, like me, hadn’t slept.

“Imagine from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and I’m still awake. I reached Stella point exhausted. I told my brother and my guide I wanted to relax at Stella point. Let me think if I can actually make it to the top because I couldn’t even bend my toes. And I was anticipating the walk I still had ahead.

“I sat down and started to fall asleep. The guide woke me up, telling me we still had one more hour. I started to break down a little. The guide was very clever. He asked us all some questions because people tend to hallucinate at this point. So he asked some questions, making sure everything was fine — that I was just exhausted and tired and wanted to sleep, which was normal for a human body awake for more than 24 hours, trekking in the middle of the night in cold weather. And on that day, I did not have any headaches.

“My brother was my support. He encouraged me when I thought I had reached my limit at Stella Point.”

When Al-Fadhli made it to the top, she and her brother raised the Yemeni and the Saudi flags.

“My motivation was to raise both flags: My Yemeni flag as I’m from Yemen, along with the Saudi flag. I’m really proud of my roots, and I’m really honored to be living in Saudi Arabia. I was born and raised here and I consider myself Saudi. I’m telling everyone I’m from both countries. I’m very happy that I’m rooted in both.”

She successfully completed her adventure in good health. “As soon as I reached Uhuru peak, all the exhaustion went away. I reached the top in full health with no pains whatsoever.”

Al-Fadhli’s goal is to climb the seven summits before she turns 40.

Al-Fadhli has her sights set on several other summits. (Supplied)