The Beatles visit India for the first time

July 06-07, 1966
Timeline More from year 1966
The Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi, India

Related song

Love You To

Officially appears on Revolver (UK Mono)

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On July 5, 1966, The Beatles left Manila after being physically threatened because they didn’t join an invitation by the Philippines’ First Lady, Imelda Marcos. In the early morning of July 6, after a brief refuelling stop in Bangkok, they arrived in New Delhi, India, thinking it would be a chance to escape their fame for a few days before heading back to London. They had thought no one in India had heard of them, but they were wrong! Hundred of fans greeted their arrival at the airport, and the Oberoi Hotel, where they stayed, was soon surrounded.

From Wikipedia:

Before leaving London, Harrison had arranged to disembark in Delhi with Aspinall on the return trip, and buy a top-quality sitar there. During the tour, the other Beatles had each decided to join the pair, although, after their troubles in Manila, all of the band would have preferred to return to London immediately. Their plane landed at night at Delhi’s Palam Airport. While the Beatles had assumed that they were unknown in India, they were welcomed by a crowd of 500 fans and journalists and forced to give a brief press conference. The group’s two-day stay in Delhi similarly came to resemble the stops throughout the tour in terms of media attention and periods of confinement in their hotel, the Oberoi.

On 6 July, the band managed to evade the fans camped out in front of the hotel and go to Connaught Place. There, they shopped for Indian musical instruments at Lahore Music House and the prestigious instrument-makers Rikhi Ram & Sons. Since their presence had soon attracted a crowd of fans, the Beatles arranged for the Rikhi Ram staff to visit them later at the Oberoi Hotel with a sitar for Harrison, as well as a sarod, tambura and tabla. The entourage were also given a tour of Delhi, during which their Cadillacs were chased by a vehicle carrying the head of the local Associated Press bureau. Once the journalist had received a comment from McCartney about the controversy in Manila, the tour continued on to villages outside the city. The primitiveness and poverty they saw there was a shock to the band. Starr described India as the first genuinely “foreign” country he had visited; Harrison found it sobering to realise that their Nikon cameras, which were a gift to the group from their Japanese promoter, “were worth more money than the whole village would earn in a lifetime”. Other locations they visited while in Delhi included the historic Red Fort and Qutb Minar.

At the Oberoi, the Beatles discussed the recent events in Manila and privately expressed their dissatisfaction with Epstein’s management of their tours. According to Brown, when Aspinall said that Epstein was already booking concerts for 1967, Lennon and Harrison insisted that their current tour would be their last. They relayed this decision to Epstein either at the hotel, where he was bedridden with a high fever, or during the flight to London. The decision was also informed by the band’s increasing dissatisfaction with the inadequate sound systems at the venues they played and the inane questions they faced at each press conference.

Before the tour was planned, I had an arrangement made that on the return journey from the Philippines to London I would stop off in India, because I wanted to go and check it out and buy a good sitar. I had asked Neil if he would come with me, because I didn’t want to be in India on my own. He agreed, and we had booked for the two of us to get off in Delhi.

Somewhere between leaving London and going through Germany and Japan to the Philippines, one by one the others had all sad, ‘I think I’ll come, too.’ But we got to Delhi and, after the experience in the Philippines, the others didn’t want to know. They didn’t want another foreign country – they wanted to go home.

I was feeling a little bit like that myself; I could have gone home. But I was in Delhi, and as I had made the decision to get off there I thought, ‘Well, it will be OK. At least in India they don’t know The Beatles. We’ll slip in to this nice ancient country, and have a bit of peace and quiet.’

The others were saying, ‘See you around , then – we’re going straight home.’ Then the stewardess came down the plane and said, ‘Sorry, you’ve got to get off. We’ve sold your seats on to London,’ and she made them all leave the plane.

So we got off. It was night-time, and we were standing there waiting for our baggage, and then the biggest disappointment I had was a realisation of the extent of the fame of The Beatles – because there were so many dark faces in the night behind a wire mesh fence, all shouting, ‘Beatles! Beatles!’ and following us.

We got in the car and drove off, and they were all on little scooters, with the Sikhs in turbans all going, ‘Hi, Beatles, Beatles!’ I thought, ‘Oh, no! Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but Beatles have nowhere to lay their heads.’

George Harrison – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

That was our first time in India, and it was quite interesting; but we had a bad day when the guys from British Airways took us out to see a camel drawing water – they go round in circles to work the pump where the water comes out. You could always tell the people who worked for BA in Delhi, because they all wore ties even though it was about 300 degrees in the shade. One guy thought it would be a bit of fun to jump on the poor animal that was walking round – probably that was all it would ever do in its life, drag this harness and draw the water. It was crazy, so we all got a bit angry with him.

But then we went shopping, and going around looking at the shops is probably the biggest memory of that time in Delhi. We were offered huge pieces of ivory carvings, and we thought it was all too expensive – huge chess pieces, which would now be antiques and worth fortunes. But I’m glad we didn’t buy it; even in those days we were thinking not to buy ivory.

Ringo Starr– From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

The Beatles were furious with Brian. They blamed his ineptitude for the entire incident [in Manila]. Down the hall from Brian’s suite, in their own interconnecting rooms, they drank scotch and Cokes and passed joints as they discussed the terrifying events in Manila and the hysterical scene on the plane. It was the general consensus that Brian had “fucked up” and was no longer in control of the situation.

“And he’s got another world tour already booked for next year,” Neil said. “We’ve gotta do this again.”

Everybody in the room groaned. “Is this touring a fucking annual event?” George asked.

“Nobody can hear a bloody note anyway,” John said. “No more for me. I say we stop touring.”

Peter Brown – From “The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles“, 2002

From Ringo Starr’s private Beatles photos shows everyday lives of world’s biggest band – Daily Record, September 24, 2015 – Paul McCartney and John Lennon in Delhi, India, 1966: “Taken through the fish-eye lens. I like cameras and I like lenses. I used whatever I had at the time. I think we all bought a Pentax in Japan the first time we went there. If you look, everybody’s carrying a camera. We loved all the tricks!”

The Beatles had often been listening to Indian music during their 1966 world tour. Insiders recalled hearing Indian music being played in hotel rooms and on the yacht in Manilla. “Revolver“, their new album, hadn’t been released yet, but George Harrison had written and recorded “Love You To“, with Indian instruments and players.

The initial motivation for the Indian stop was for George Harrison to buy a sitar. All four Beatles, therefore, went to Rikhi Ram & Sons, a reputed shop on New Delhi’s Connaught Circle, to test and try instruments.

From Beatle George Harrison receiving instruction in playing the sitar… News Photo – Getty Images – Beatle George Harrison receiving instruction in playing the sitar from a Sikh teacher as the other members of the Beatles look on in quiet fascination.
From Paul McCartney and George Harrison centre, from The Beatles are given… News Photo – Getty Images – NEW DELHI, INDIA – 6th JULY: Paul McCartney (right) and George Harrison (1943-2001) centre, from The Beatles are given a sitar demonstration in Rikhi Ram’s instrument shop in New Delhi, India on 6th July 1966. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)
From Paul McCartney and George Harrison behind, from The Beatles are given… News Photo – Getty Images – NEW DELHI, INDIA – 6th JULY: Paul McCartney (centre) and George Harrison (1943-2001) behind, from The Beatles are given a sitar demonstration in Rikhi Ram’s instrument shop in New Delhi, India on 6th July 1966. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)
From Paul McCartney from The Beatles is given a sitar demonstration in… News Photo – Getty Images – NEW DELHI, INDIA – 6th JULY: Paul McCartney (far right) from The Beatles is given a sitar demonstration in Rikhi Ram’s instrument shop in New Delhi, India on 6th July 1966. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)
From Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg.Co. on Facebook – Beatles Appreciation letter@ Rikhiram Originals

Beatles in India fail to give fans the slip

New Delhi (AP) – Beatles and a mob of young Indian fans raced neck and neck through New Delhi’s crowded streets today as the mop-haired British quarter tried to do some sightseeing.

The British entertainers sent their big limousines off in opposite directions from the front of their hotel, hoping to draw off several hundred young fans who were waiting. Then the Beatles ran through the lobby, jumped into a small taxi and roared off to a rendezvous with one of the limousines.

The limousine roared through stoplights, screeched around corners, brushed aside bullock carts and left bicycle rickshaw drivers scratching their turbans. The more daring of the fans caught up with them and roared alongside on motorcycles begging for autographs.

The Britons had their drivers make several brief stops while they took movies of bullock carts, the historic red fort and the cremation grounds for India’s leaders. An aide begged the fans to let the entertainers alone. The fans ignored him.

The Beatles stopped in New Delhi for two days of sightseeing on the way home from a performing visit to the Philippines that went sour.

From The Kansas City Star – July 6, 1966
From The Kansas City Star – July 6, 1966

Neil Aspinall, Road Manager to The Beatles continues his story. This week he remembers the boys’ fatal visit to Manila.

THE catastrophic aspects of The Beatles’ visit to Manila has made world headlines and it’s pointless for me to delve into the details again at this stage.

Just for the record, I’ll say again that neither the boys themselves nor anybody in our party ever received any kind of invitation to a state reception at the presidential palace — in fact, the first we knew of any formal luncheon at the palace was seven hours later when we were all watching telly between performances!

At the same time I suppose I ought to bring out here the point that somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 Filipino Beatle People attended the group’s two concerts in Manila.

ALSO, despite ambiguous newspaper reports to the contrary, the crowd of fans who gathered at the airport to wave goodbye to John, Paul, George and Ringo were as shocked, surprised and disappointed as we were to hear twenty or thirty men booing and jeering.

Certainly the fans themselves were not booing. Indeed, they gave the boys a great send-off and were as puzzled as anyone else by the actions of the few well-organised troublemakers!

The two-night stay of The Beatles at the Oberoi Intercontinental Hotel, New Delhi, was planned with utmost secrecy.

FALSE names were used when the suites were reserved. Fictitious seat reservations were made for the BOAC flight from India to England. Yet news leaked to the extent that few less than a hundred reporters, TV crews and cameramen were waiting on the landing strip as our aircraft taxied in from Manila.

Originally only George planned to make a New Delhi stopover. He wanted to look around and pick out some instruments for his collection.

THEN John and Paul decided to join him. Up until the last minute Ringo planned to fly straight through from Manila to London. Thursday of that week (7th July) was his birthday and he wanted to be at home with his family for the occasion. But when all the others — plus Brian — decided to take a lightning look at Delhi, Ringo said he’d do so, too.

From Fabulous208 – March 25, 1967
From Fabulous208 – March 25, 1967

Neil Aspinall, Road Manager to The Beatles, continues his travelogue with John, Paul, George and Ringo in India.

We arrived in Delhi at night. By dawn, five hundred fans surrounded the Intercontinental Hotel. At lunchtime the boys managed to get out of the hotel via a rear door and, using their fleet of gleaming limousines as a decoy, sped off into the downtown area in a pair of very ordinary taxis!

In the evening a Sikh sitar teacher visited the boys’ suite and showed them a variety of instruments. John tried out a snake charmer’s flute; George stuck to a selection of beautifully made sitars and Ringo took simple lessons in tabla playing — a tabla being an Indian bongo drum.

The women of India are just beautiful,” commented John when we left. “Those sarees look fabulous. And they just sort of glide about.

John, George and Ringo bought sets of elegant sarees for their wives and all four boys purchased wood carvings for their homes.

At nine o’clock that Thursday night, we climbed aboard the B.O.A.C. jet airliner to begin the final dusk-to-dawn flight home.

That was a good idea of yours, George,” began John. “We must fix more of these secret get-away-from-it-all holidays!

And the boys waved to at least a thousand fans on the airport roof as our aircraft moved off towards the runway!

From Fabulous208 – April 1, 1967
From Fabulous208 – April 1, 1967

The Beatles left India late in the evening of July 7 and flew back to England.

Last updated on October 25, 2023

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Susan Hiebert 1 year ago

Hi. This is Sue Hiebert. I read with great interest your story of July 7th, 1966 about the exciting day The Beatles enjoyed on their first trip to India. The newspaper articles do not mention the fact that a few of us from the American International School in New Delhi actually met our favorite musicians at the Oberoi Intercontinental Hotel that day.

There was great commotion when none of the band could find a key to their room at the end of the hall. Brian Epstein let them into his room adjacent to their suite at the end of the hallway. I was with a small number of 'big kids' from Yugoslavia who had rented a room next to Brian's. At one point, Paul leaned over the balcony spotting me and my friend, Sue, and called out 'Hello Love'. Needless to say, he became the favorite Beatle.

That evening we were invited into their suite because we had a birthday present for Ringo, a silk tie which didn't seem to make much of an impression on him. I was delighted to see George, sitting on a platform in the back of the group playing the sitar he had purchased that day.

Paul and John offered us Cokes and conversation and being only 14 I was tongue-tied and awestruck although I did try to persuade them to do a concert in Delhi.

The cordiality and freshness of the group stays with me. I only wish I hadn't given my best friend back in the States their autographed signatures. She asked me to write up something about this experience to keep with the autographed paper which I am doing.

What a remarkable experience for me and I think the Beatles are the all time best of music the industry.

The PaulMcCartney Project 1 year ago

Hi Susan, what awesome memories! Thanks very much for sharing this with us !

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