Upon landing in Delhi, the Lennons, the Harrisons, and Jenny Boyd were met by Mal Evans and, according to Cynthia Lennon,

We were bundled unmolested and travel-weary into three battered, ancient Indian taxis without all the usual fuss and frantic rush. It was wonderfully refreshing and stress free.

They were joined by Mia Farrow, who at this point was in the process of getting divorced from Frank Sinatra, and probably needed a little serenity in her life. But the trek to Rishikesh was not exactly serene. According to Bob Spitz’s The Beatles,

The overland journey from the airport – by taxi, Jeep, and donkey – covered 150 miles and took more than four hours. On a particularly forbidding stretch of road, the weary Beatles party looked out both sides of their car and saw only soft, treacherous cliffs, with no guardrail – and no conceivable access. It took them several minutes to realize they’d have to continue on foot. “There [was] quite a heavy flow of water coming out of the Himalayas,” George remembered, “and we had to cross the river by a big suspension bridge” outfitted with a hand-lettered sign warning “NO CAMELS OR ELEPHANTS.”

As you picture that, try using this for musical accompaniment:

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Although this song had not yet been written at this juncture, it begins with the words “On the road to Rishikesh,” and so is quite germane. (For my money this is perhaps the most gorgeous of all unreleased Beatles songs; Lennon would later repurpose its melody for “Jealous Guy.”)

After all that, I imagine the party was quite exhausted by the time they made it their destination. What they found was…well, I’ll have to go back to Spitz on this one. I’ll be leaning him a lot in this period, as his research is superb and his prose lucid. Thanks, Bob.

The Mahrishi’s retreat was unique: part temple, part commercial venture. Set within a fenced-in compound on a hillside overlooking the Ganges, the ashram resembled a Himalayan Club Med, with a central courtyard surrounded by six concrete lean-tos, called puri (Paul optimistically referred to them as “chalets”; Cynthia, “barracks”)‚ where disciples redefined their place in the universe from a warren of tiny, unheated cells. There was a glass-walled dining area and a terraced lecture hall interconnected by gravel paths, a swimming pool, a heliport, even plans for an airfield, all at the nominal rate of $400 for the three-month stay.

That’s right, there was a heliport — which must have annoyed John and George, as they could certainly have sprung for a helicopter ride, thus avoiding all the hassle and danger they had endured en route. Or maybe they would have rationalized that the hardship was part of the pilgrimage, and that arriving by whirlybird is no way to begin a spiritual transformation.

In any case it might have served as their first clue that the Maharishi, theoretically an ascetic holy man, had a highly developed relationship with the material world…but there will be plenty of time to get into all that later. It’s been a long day already.

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