Friday, March 20, 2009

CC: On the Road to Rishikesh

The further along Swarg Ashram Road you go, the more the guest houses,touts, beggars, and merchants start to thin out until the road turns into gravel path and the only buildings to be seen are the small huts where some of the sadhus live by the river. If you walk right past the main turn off where guards are watching the gate, you can take a tiny path along the side of the fence, slip through the ineffectively placed barbed wire, and emerge into the ruins of the Maharishi’s ashram where The Beatles once stayed.

It feels more like walking through the ruins of an ancient city than a recently vacated spiritual retreat. The forest has reclaimed most of the buildings, and there are few windows or even toilets (western style) still left unbroken. Even more astonishing, no matter where you go, you’re surrounded by one of the rarest things one can find in India – silence. Apart from the singing of birds, the wind in the trees, and the rustling of an occasional monkey passing overhead, there’s not a thing to be heard.

It’s really quite a trip to be there. To walk by the room that (dear) Prudence locked herself up in, or the spot where George Harrison would have sat working out the lyrics for While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It's certainly felt more historically significant (for me anyway) than any of the palaces or temples I'd dropped in on so far.

But even stronger than that sense of historical significance, after spending some time exploring, was the slow revelation that despite the incredible things that had happened there, the geography – the exact physical location - was irrelevant. The inspiration for the white album didn’t come from that specific spot on the hill where they were staying. It came out of the energy of the place. It comes from being at the opposite side of the world, living in a bubble with other foreigners in the middle of a strange and exciting culture. It grows out of the community of people full of exciting ideas and dedicated to finding something bigger than they've grown up knowing. If I really wanted see where it all came from, I’d have done better off to stay back at the ashram where I was staying. The farther one travels, the less one knows.

Now if only I were a musical genius, I could really make something excellent of the experience.

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