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The Beatles' spiritual retreat in India opens to public

The abandoned retreat in the Himalayan foothills where The Beatles stayed briefly remains a big draw for their fans. The Beatles stay at the 18-acre ashram proved to be one of their most productive periods.

The retreat on the outskirts of the Indian town of Rishikesh is where the "Fab Four" of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr learnt about meditation and Indian spirituality in 1968. On Tuesday, the ashram opened to the public.

The ashram, set up by spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was abandoned by him and his followers in the 1970s. But the retreat, taken over by the local forestry department in 2003, remained a pilgrimage of sorts for Beatles' fans who would usually sneak in despite it technically being off-limits to visitors.

Local authorities began cleaning up what became popularly known as the "Beatles Ashram" several months ago for Tuesday's opening, exactly 35 years after John Lennon was assassinated in New York. Indian tourists are being charged an entry fee of 150 rupees ($2.24, 2.05 euros) and the foreign visitors are being asked to pay 700 rupees.

Meditation caves at Beatles ashram

The meditation caves at the spiritual retreat were abandoned in the 1970s

"We will not disturb the architecture or anything. People visit this place because of its association with Mahesh Yogi and its association with The Beatles," DVS Khati, chief wildlife warden of the state of Uttarakhand, told DW.

"It's not a major tourism effort from us," he added. "It's just to involve the local communities to protect the heritage."

Khati said the authorities plan to limit the number of visitors to the ashram in view of its location inside a protected forest.

One of the main attractions at the mediation center located within a tiger reserve is a wall of graffiti and pop art painted by fans in one of the former yoga halls.

"It's a beautiful location to meditate and practice yoga. The decision to open it to the public will hopefully attract more tourists looking for musical inspiration or spiritual enlightenment," Mohit Dang, a local hotelier, photographer and Beatles fan, told DW.

Productive period

The Beatles cut short their retreat at the ashram after falling out with the yogi. Ringo Starr, according to some accounts, objected to the spicy food, while John Lennon felt that the Maharishi's claim to celibacy was a lie.

But the band's stay at the 18-acre ashram proved to be one of its most productive periods as songwriters. They managed to write many songs that would later find their way onto the band's iconic White Album, such as "The continuing story of bungalow bill," "Back in the USSR" and "Dear Prudence."

The visit had a profound impact on at least one of the band members - George Harrison, who kept returning to India to learn more about Indian spirituality and music. He learnt how to play the sitar from Indian maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and also studied yoga.

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