DEHRADUN: Forest officials in Uttarakhand have denied permission for a mega yoga gathering that would likely have seen over 1,000 participants from 70 nations converge on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Chaurasi Kutiya, more famousas the ‘Beatles ashram’, over concerns about possible disturbance to the area’s rich wildlife.The ashram, reopened a few months ago, is situated in the heart of the Gohri range of Rajaji tiger reserve, which has around eight tigers and a healthy population of the leopard, black bear, and cobra, among other species. The idea of having no tourist or commercial activity in core tiger habitats has earlier been endorsed by the Supreme Court, besides National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
“Only five to 10 people are permitted to visit the Chaurasi Kutiya ashram in a day,” DVS Khati, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), told TOI on Wednesday, explaining the denial of permission. “The Parmarth Niketan ashram (organisers) sought to have a large gathering here which would have disturbed the wildlife and badly affected the area’s habitat,” he added.
Over 1,100 participants from across the world have registered for the ongoing international yoga festival at Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh. Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the head of the ashram, had earlier expressed a desire to take the visitors for meditation at Chaurasi Kutiya ashram because of its serene surroundings and peaceful atmosphere.
Despite the prevailing concerns, forest minister Dinesh Aggarwal had recently announced a number of steps to boost the flow of visitors at the ashram — veritably the equivalent of a shrine for generations of Beatles fans — calling for the renovation of its caves, installation of lights in the vicinity, and the setting up of a cafe. According to Khati, though, for any addition to the ashram complex, “permission would have to be taken from the Centre”.
Prerna Bindra, former member of the state and national wildlife boards, has, however, objected to active tourism in the area. “The Chaurasi Kutiya ashram is in a national park and in the core tiger habitat, which should be kept intrusionfree.
The tigers and other wildlife at Rajaji tiger reserve are already under a lot of stress due to a fragmented habitat. Any further pressure in this case is uncalled for,” she said. “The guidelines for tourism in a tiger reserve, formulated by NTCA and endorsed by the SC, have stipulated that any permanent tourism facilities in a tiger reserve should be phased out,” she added.
When contacted, Swami Chidanand said he honoured the forest official’s sentiments, but added that he was “disappointed”.