In the 1960's, the hippie counterculture movement emerged. Due to the baby boom after World War II, there were 70 million teenagers and young adults in America. The American youth rejected the traditional values of their parents, forming their own culture, aesthetics, beliefs, and values. Hippies practiced free love, advocated "flower power," experimented with drugs, and expanded the boundaries of what was acceptable in American culture. This group of individuals was called the Hippies. Their ideas if life and love amazed almost all the people across the Globe. Hippies were strange but at the same time funny and got connected with the people very easily. The word hippie comes from the word hip, meaning "aware of" or "knowing." By the mid-1960s, hippies began to appear in high schools, colleges, and enclaves around the country. Their unique combination of hedonism and morality depended on the spin they placed on the "generation gap" that separated them from their elders. Starting around 1964 and increasing steadily into the early 1970s, hippies began gathering in lower income, inner city neighborhoods (the same areas their parents had worked so hard to escape) such as New York's East Village and, particularly, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, and later formed communes and settlements in the countryside. Largely white, middle class, and educated, hippies whipped up their own philosophy of natural living, easy sexual and social relations, sincerity, and hedonism through a blend of Eastern mysticism, left-wing social critique, and Beatnik appropriations of African-American slang.
Drugs played a special part in this hedonistic moral rebirth. By "blowing one's mind," drugs allowed one to see through the fake values of middle-class materialism and into the profound layers of one's innermost being. The hippie political outlook was just as fanciful. Hippies imagined the older generation working together in a massive authoritarian conspiracy called "the Establishment," or "the Man." They believed the main objective of the recognized social order was to restrain and control the innocent love of life, nature, and happiness that defined hippie life. The Vietnam war provided a ready target for hippie opposition and rebellion: the words "peace" and "love" became symbolically loaded terms, lumping together a call for military withdrawal from Vietnam, an attitude of mutual acceptance and trust between people, and a sense of personal awareness and happiness. The famous photograph of a hippie protester inserting flowers into the rifle barrels of a line of National Guard troops demonstrates the unique style of hippie morality, which connected personal feeling with political intent.
Origins of the Hippie Trail
The roots of the Hippie Trail probably lie with the overland expeditions of the mid-1950s, when small groups of wealthy individuals or sponsored students would travel east from England by Land Rover or Bedford Dormobile to climb mountains or carry out scientific studies and surveys, often publishing accounts of their travels afterwards.
Many who read of such pioneering trips were less interested in science or mountaineering than with the descriptions of the exotic places and cultures on the way. Air travel was in its infancy and prohibitively expensive, but for those seeking adventure the prospect of an epic overland journey was both attractive and increasingly affordable.
The first established British Bus Company to ply the overland route was The Indiaman in 1957, closely followed by Swagman Tours (later renamed Asian Greyhound). These began as one-man operations catering for a handful of adventurous travellers, and as the economy boomed and the market grew, other bus companies started to spring up in the 1960s. After The Beatles visited India in a blaze of publicity in 1968 the number of young people hitting the road from western Europe began to increase dramatically.
But from the late 1960s onwards the largest contingent, united by a common interest, were the young people with long hair who gave the hippie trail its name - and what defined the hippie trail was that it led to the major hashish-producing centres of the world. Afghanistan, Chitral, Kashmir, Nepal - familiar names to the pot-smokers of the sixties and seventies, most of whom knew very little else about the countries where their herb of choice was cultivated. But for the next ten years or so they set off in their thousands to look for it.
The Hippie Trail Route
The route of the hippie trail essentially started at Istanbul, the point at which all roads from Europe converged. From here the direct route led straight across Turkey, though some headed south for Lebanon, for centuries the main hashish producer of the Middle East.
From Turkey the route continued across Iran, then a secular country run by the Shah, and on to Afghanistan, the first major destination of the hippie trail, a land where foreigners were made very welcome and where a large proportion of the population used hashish themselves.
After Afghanistan the trail offered many diversions. On entering Pakistan some would head north towards Chitral, but the majority crossed the country and entered India, where a trip up to Kashmir was an immediate option for enthusiastic potheads. Northern India also offered Manali, another popular destination for hippies and another centre of marijuana cultivation.
In winter months most hippies would head south for the beaches of Goa, where hashish was always freely available (though it was not actually produced there). But in the summer the hippie trail ended in the mountains of Nepal, where until 1973 there were many hashish shops operating legally, and where there was no real difficulty obtaining the world's finest charasafterwards.
Visas, where required, could be obtained easily at the borders or towns en route. British passport holders did not require a visa to stay in India long-term.
Always A Freak - Never A Hippie
Those who went on the hippie trail often referred to it as "going to India", a shorthand way of describing the trip. They did not call themselves "hippies" anyway, preferring the term "freaks", and in Kathmandu everyone knew where "Freak Street" was (though the official name was Jochen Tole).
While other travellers - those who were not "freaks" - quite reasonably refer to the route as "the overland", there really was a distinct hippie trail. In every major stop along the way there were hotels, restaurants and cafes that catered almost exclusively to the pot-smoking westerners, who networked with each other as they wandered east and west - there were noLonely Planet guides in those days, and (of course) there was no internet.
This influx of long-haired western youth must have been a curiosity to the locals, who were largely unaccustomed to tourists of any sort back then. But they were generally hospitable, and many found welcome ways to derive extra income. Their experience was caricatured in the 1971 Bollywood movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which featured a scene involving chillum-smoking hippies, accompanied by the enormously popular Asha Bosle song Dum Maro Dum.
The hippies tended to spend more time interacting with the local population than traditional sightseeing tourists - they had no interest in luxury accommodation, even if they could afford it (which few could), and some would "go native" after a fashion, particularly in India. Of course, they were still tourists really, albeit of a different sort, and hedonism was the primary aim.
There were casualties, undoubtedly. Staying healthy could be difficult, particularly in Afghanistan, and even hippies can suffer from culture shock. Some would get severely ill, or run out of money, and have to be flown home. Others would wind up in jail, not a pleasant experience anywhere and particularly tough in a third world country.
Most survived, however, and lived to tell the tale on their return, often inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. And a few stayed on, found ways to support themselves, and still live in India.
The End of The Road
The classic hippie trail came to an end in 1979, when Islamic revolution in Iran and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan closed the overland route to western travellers. Lebanon had already lapsed into civil war, Chitral and Kashmir became less inviting due to tensions in the area, and even Nepal eventually lost its peace and tranquility.
Air travel had by now become affordable and Goa became the main centre of the hippie scene, based around the village of Anjuna, where hippies had been renting houses for many years before any hotels were built to accommodate the massive influx of tourists in the 1980s.
Those who flew to Goa in later years to partake of the hippie lifestyle doubtless enjoyed themselves, and the more adventurous will have travelled around India and learned from the experience. But the overland hippie trail, which lasted little more than ten years, was gone forever.
"I hate hippies... they want to save the Earth but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad."
Eric Theodore Cartman