The Beatles Cafe is a particular lesson in the power of a good brand. Image: Pranav Gohil
Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh is full of Om T-shirts and old-coin vendors. Elderly sadhus wander its streets, while the nearby ghats play host to naked, tripping foreigners. As one half of India’s “National Heritage Cities”, Rishikesh is like someone’s half-remembered dream about an ideal holy place, with the Ganga flowing through it and the smoke from local charas hovering above.The eateries, however, look firmly towards the rest of the world, with offerings ranging from Iranian breakfast to “authentic” Madras filter coffee, and about 500 bakeries in between— each declaring itself to be THE “German Bakery”. In addition to food, the cafes of Rishikesh also do brisk trade in Beatles nostalgia. The story of the restaurant colloquially called the Beatles Cafe is a particular lesson in the power of a good brand.
The cafe, which is actually named 60’s Cafe or 60’s Cafe Delmar, is located on Paidal Marg, near Laxman Jhula. The cafe was closed for renovation, but manager Mathur Bairagi let us take a look inside. The restaurant opened eight years ago, as Cafe Delmar, and was bought by a consortium of five people in 2011. Bairagi told me that “After market research, our new owners realised that most tourists that come to Rishikesh because of the Beatles.”
After the name change, “business boomed,” Bairagi said. The menu went through a rebranding too. Drinks became “The Green Revolution”, and the tofu roll became “John Lennon Roll”. The menu, bt dubs, prices these items really fairly expensively. The idea was so profitable, in fact, that the owners used the same theme for another restaurant in another part of Rishikesh called “60’s The Eat Story”.
A few steps above the Beatles Cafe is Tat Cafe, whose owner Jitendra Gulia claims a more authentic connection to the rock band. “[60s Cafe] changed the name only six years ago, but that’s just how people are,” he said. “It’s a good marketing trick, and is just for money.”Gulia came to Rishikesh around the same time 60s Cafe opened, in 2011, after quitting his management job because of a vision he had in a dream. His vision, he told me, ended with a gigantic open eye, which he later found above the cave where the Tat Wale Baba practised transcendental meditation, near Rishikesh. Gulia figured he’d found his calling.
“Many yogis don’t fully sacrifice material life for meditation. Tat baba was different,” Gulia said. Besides being able to read minds, predict the future, and have out-of-body experiences, Gulia told me, he also had a connection to the Beatles. But it’s a connection only real yogis understand.According to The Beatles, Hunter Davies’ official biography, George Harrison was introduced to Tat Wale Baba by Pandit Ravi Shankar in 1966 while learning sitar. A year later, the Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at his ashram which is now famously called “Beatles Ashram”.“Tat babaji was one of the wisest men in the history of Rishikesh,” Gulia told me over chai. “Mahesh Yogi understood this, and used to invite him to the Beatles ashram to speak with the assembled there.”Throughout our time together, Gulia stressed upon how he was doing everything so that people remember the “forgotten, real yogis”, like Tat baba. “Everyone is trying to be more modern, leaving their roots behind. I don’t want to fuel this machine,” he told me.
I asked if he'd considered changing the name of his cafe to something more obviously Beatles adjacent. “I don’t live for money, I live for every day,” he said. “Money keeps coming if you live for yourself." I half expected him to add, "Money can't buy me love."