On the Hippie Trail – Part I

For most of us, the word ‘hippie’ is associated with images from the 1960s-70s, of Westerners – long-haired white men and women – clad in semi-tattered psychedelic clothing, smoking weed, chilling out on the beaches of Goa, dancing to their own beat and generally not giving a damn. An article from the July 7, 1967 issue of Time magazine puts it succinctly: ‘Whatever their meaning and wherever they may be headed, the hippies have emerged on the US scene in about 18 months as a wholly new subculture, a bizarre permutation of the middle-class American ethos from which it evolved. Hippies preach altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy and non-violence. They find an almost childish fascination in beads, blossoms and bells, blinding strobe lights and ear-shattering music, exotic clothing and erotic slogans.’

In those heady ‘flower power’ days, when American psychologist and author Timothy Leary was exhorting people to ‘turn on, tune in, drop out,’ Europe was also getting in on the act. Powered by hashish and with visions of freedom from the shackles of Western society and the pressures to conform, starry-eyed young people (alright, some were actually not all that young…) clambered on to rickety buses and Volkswagen vans to drive the ‘hippie trail,’ which went via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, finally culminating in either Goa, India or Kathmandu, Nepal. All you need is love, sang the Beatles, as the hippies journeyed in the hopes of finding free love, peace and enlightenment.

The hippie movement was a unique counterculture phenomenon of the 1960s-70s and many who hit the hippie trail back then lived to tell their stories via the books they went on to write. Some, who missed the bus back then (by virtue of having been born much later, when the movement had already died out) have chosen to recreate the journey, in an attempt to experience some of what those early hippies may have experienced. Again, some very interesting books have been written. (Of course, much of the old ‘hippie trail’ overland route from Europe to India is now inaccessible due to the prevailing situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but some people either find a way or an alternative route.)

So, for those who may be fascinated with hippie culture and the adventures undertaken on the hippie trail all those years ago, here is our list of books that will help you live the hippie life without getting anywhere near an old, beat-up Volkswagen minibus. Since we can’t actually rewind the clock and go back to the 1960s, reading these books just have to be the next best thing we can do. This is part 1 of our two-part list of the must-read books on life on the hippie trail.    

Overland Before the Hippie Trail: Kathmandu and Beyond with a Van a Man and No Plan, by Patricia Noble Sullivan

‘As they drove through the hot flat Iraqi desert, Patricia looked over at her husband. He was guzzling water; sweat was running down his neck; the outside temperature was way over 100; and their 1963 VW camper van had no air conditioning.’ ‘Yikes,’ she thought. ‘This is not how I pictured our honeymoon.’ It was August of 1966. They had gone to Europe the previous summer after their wedding, and that trip had stretched into a two-year adventure that took them around the world on a bare-bones budget. In those days with no mobile phones, no Internet, and limited maps, they were out of contact with family for months at a time while dodging a cholera epidemic in Iraq, staying in a palace in Pakistan, meeting with a maharaja in his stately home in India, and floating on a barge down the Mekong River in Laos. The journey had become a way of life as they found themselves drawn into a culture of international overland travellers while exploring a world that was large, varied, and filled with people who were curious, welcoming, and generous,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘The world seemed bigger then. It took longer to get from one point to another. Differences between cultures were more pronounced, and of the course the amount of information people now have at their fingertips was not available then. We not only had no computers, Internet or cell phones, we had no backpacked guidebooks with their detailed maps and explanations of out-of-the-way places. On the road, telephones were hard to find, expensive, and difficult to use for international calls. To receive mail, we had to plan weeks or months ahead, usually by notifying our families of the address of either Thomas Cook & Son or an American Express office, two businesses that would hold mail for travellers,’ says the author. So, as you might expect, this is a full-blown, old-fashioned adventure from simpler times. Go ahead, pick up a copy for a whole new perspective on life.

Memoirs of Hippie Girl in India, by Ann Becoy

‘Ann BeCoy is a Canadian woman of Dutch descent who travelled extensively in the 1970s, to India and Nepal – lands of gurus, sadhus and maharishis – and into the so-called counter-culture of the day. Here presented are her fascinating accounts of life in those places and in those times; of ideals, values and the practical reality of trying to live up to them in a foreign culture thousands of miles from home. BeCoy takes you into the depths of commune culture, Hindu mysticism, the drugs, the sex and the rock-and-roll lifestyle she lived during those years, and gives her insights into how it worked and why it didn’t. From first to last, this profusely illustrated book will transport, enchant and entertain you,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘This story recounts my journey through the Middle East to India, then to Europe and back to India again. From the hippie beach in Goa, it brings you into the female side of India’s prison system and my personal transformation during three months in Bombay jails. Then the journey takes you to ashram and village life in rural India, to Simla and the Himalayas in northern India, and later to Kathmandu in Nepal,’ says the author. ‘ In writing this piece of my life adventure, I wanted to portray a time and place unique in history, a place that was magical for a while. I feel blessed to have seen a side of India that no longer exists – an India with 19th century quaintness but largely free of Western culture. Many would ask what possessed me to do some of the things I did. To which I answer: Growing up a certain way, I became a tremendous risk-taker. In so doing, I learned to survive a variety of difficult circumstances [and] it gave me the strength to endure some even greater hardships later,’ she adds.

The Hippie Trail – A History, by Sharif Gemie and Brian Ireland

‘This is the first detailed history of the hippie trail in the 1960s and 1970s. Going beyond the dozens of personal memoirs and travellers’ accounts that have been written about the legendary overland route between the West and South Asia, the book records the joys and pains experienced by the huge numbers of (mostly) young hippies on their travels to India and other ‘points east’ such as Nepal and Afghanistan. Written in a clear, simple style, it goes deep into the motivations and the experiences of hundreds of thousands of hippies who made the journey. This account is structured around a few key questions: Were the travellers simply motivated by a search for drugs or was there something deeper that they were looking for? What was the truth about the love and sexual freedom that was supposed to be an integral part of the hippie subculture? Were they basically just budget tourists? Or were they pilgrims in thrall to the mysticism of the East? Besides an insightful analysis of the various aspects of the hippie phenomenon, the authors also take a look at how the travellers have been represented in films, novels and autobiographical accounts. In sum, The Hippie Trail should appeal to all those interested in a fascinating moment in cultural history and its far-reaching effects on the generations that followed,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘There is an odd issue that we face when writing a history of the hippie trail and its travellers: the trail had no official existence. No ceremony marked its opening or its collapse; no flag identified its territory; no organisation directed its travellers; no reader wrote its manifesto; no prominent philosophers attempted to make sense of it; no major novelists have written about it; and no archive has been created to preserve its memory. In order to identify it, we need to impose our own parameters on the ceaseless, immeasurable and often unpredictable flows of history,’ say the authors, who based on their research reconstructed as many as 80 journeys down the hippie trail. The book represents an interesting take on the hippie culture and is an attempt to chronicle and understand what was it that drove hippies of the 1960s to go East.

As Far as the Road Would Take Me: From the Hippie Trail to the Canadian Wilderness, by Roland Bjorn Reebs

‘This is the true and deeply personal story of Roland Reebs, aka Bjorn, who leaves post-war Germany to discover himself and the world. His unique journey begins in summer 1969 when the 17-year old hitchhikes across Europe and Asia with few resources and no particular destination in mind. His quest for adventure and need for change lead him to India during the hippie movement, to the sleep-ins of Amsterdam, and later to the Canadian north with only a guitar on his back. Whether living on the sunny beaches of Goa or in the cold wilderness of the Yukon, Reebs pushes boundaries and challenges social norms. His adventures are captivating, and his reflections profound. This book is a must-read for those interested in an era when all seemed possible and for those looking towards a better world,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Travel today is predictable and the world has become a much smaller place. Young people leave home with a smartphone, stay in an AirBnb, write blogs and update their Facebook pages daily. Gone are the days when it would take four weeks to send a letter from Europe to India, when your mailing address was poste restante at the main post office in some town and you went to the general delivery counter hoping for a letter. In an emergency, you had to send a telegram – a pricey proposition, if you had the money. When you left home, you were gone for some time. Period. Your folks wouldn’t hear from you for months. It must have been difficult for our parents not knowing where we were,’ says the author. ‘My experience on the hippie trail challenges the assumption that you have to study something to the nth degree before you can do it,’ he adds.

The Hippie Trail – 1974: Dover to Delhi the Hard Way, by Simon Sharpe

‘Simon Sharpe travelled the hippie trail in the summer of 1974 and then sat down with a cassette tape recorder one year later before memory faded. His recently discovered tape recordings bring us his descriptive memories of the countries, cheap hotels, the food, the cultural divides, the local people and the western adventurers for whom this was a significant part of their youth experience. Simon collected all his bus, coach and train tickets as well as his passport stamps and visas on display in this book. Full of anecdotes and sharp observations of the people he met, Simon also includes adventurers from his own family history in the 19th and 20th centuries to create a fascinating refection on his own motives for travelling. He asks the awkward question, to what extent western youth, travelling through those strictly observant Muslim countries may have inadvertently changed the politics of the region,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘I had better tell you now, this is not a tale of meeting drug dealers in Middle Eastern back alleys or of days spent in a cannabis coma or opium haze. I had twelve weeks of freedom that summer, before college began, and travel on the hippie trail was the intoxicating thought too great to miss. So, what was your motivation for travelling the hippie trail? For motivation would guide your experiences. Mine was pure escapism and adventure,’ says the author.

Blazing the Hippie Trail in 1959: Calcutta to London on £10, by Gerry Virtue (This book is also known as On the Road with Geoff and Jules – Adventures on the Early Hippie Trail 1959-60)

‘Christmas 1959. Calcutta. Gerry is stranded in the Salvation Army Hostel. He meets Geoff, an eccentric loner. Only a few pounds between them. How to get to Europe overland? No money for a plane; no internet; no guide books; no ATMs; no clear options. Across Asia to Europe by land. But how? There must be roads, sure to be, but which one’s the right one? Can you hitch-hike? What about buses and trains? Nobody seems to know. There are no hippies, so there’s no such thing as the hippie trail. Nobody will even hear about hippies for another five or six years, It’s all a bit chancy, really. But they give it a go,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Mixing it with oddballs, con-men, magnificently decorated generals, a family of wrestlers, and eccentrics of all stripes, they freeze in the Himalayas, upset the military-industrialists in Darjeeling, bathe their sins away in the Ganges, get arrested in Afghanistan, dodge the Shah’s SAVAK in Teheran, rid themselves of lice in Istanbul, have a splendid party in Macedonia, and fetch up finally in 1960s London in a base across the road from the Sun in Splendour pub on Portobello Road. All on ten pounds,’ it adds.

A small excerpt from the book: It was Christmas eve 1959, and we were in the communal sitting room of the Salvation Army hostel on Sudder Street, Calcutta. There were others there like myself, a small, scruffy and haphazard collection of wanderers from various parts of the world. With its Christmas tree, decorations and fussy English missionaries, the Sallie’s hostel was a haven. Although mostly godless and shabby, we got along well enough with the missionaries. There is something about such gatherings; everybody is a stranger and everybody is passing through, yet there’s a camaraderie. There are outrageous travellers’ tales and a constant exchange of information. Free doss-houses, black market currency dealers, porous borders, temples that welcome travellers, suppliers of bogus student cards, and a hundred other items of vital interest to those with little money and big itineraries…’

Me. And Me Now: A 1970s’ Kiwi Hippie Trail Adventure, by Alan Samson

Me. And Me Now is an extraordinary travel memoir about the early 1970s hippie trail across Asia – a story not just of exotic places but an emerging era for the world’s youth marked by unprecedented freedom, escapism and experimentation. Author Alan Samson, a retired journalist and journalism lecturer from New Zealand, was in his early 20s when he began a two-year adventure along the trail, from Singapore to the jungles of Borneo, Bali to Burma, war-torn Cambodia to the majestic Himalayas, spiritual India to hippie-haven Afghanistan. His story captures the essence of the times, the places and the politics, as well as epitomising the ‘big adventure’ for a young foreigner seeking to learn more about the world and, through that, himself,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘As Vietnam and other regional conflicts escalated into the 1970s, the whole region was on a knife’s edge. And with fledgling television exponentially increasing its reach around the world, many of the conflicts began to be noticed in living rooms to an extent that could barely have been imagined even a few years earlier. Unsurprisingly, these years also saw a burgeoning of idealism among the world’s youth, they too becoming the news as the cameras focused on enthusiastic anti-war demonstrations as far afield as America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Whether Americans dodging compulsory draft call-ups, or numerous others from all over the so-called West taking advantage of personal freedom emerged out of the ‘swinging sixties,’ the result was a mass migration of young travellers. Wandering what became known as the ‘hippie trail,’ beginning from the southern hemisphere or the northern, but invariably landing in South and Southeast Asia, many styled themselves as hippies, even if they did not label themselves in that manner, their apparent loose lifestyles cemented the perception within astounded local populations. Caught up in the maelstrom, the author pursued the path of the many, tramping war zones, immersing himself in the region’s religions, at the same time eating and smoking his way along the trail as far as Afghanistan before sickness had him abruptly homeward bound. For anyone wanting to understand the times and the context of a turbulent but exhilarating era, this articulate, one-man account of search and discovery, is a must read,’ it adds.

Snapshots of the Hippy Trail, by Billy Wells

‘Authentic, grassroots, 60s tale of five years’ worth of journeys, made by a young, Cockney, rocker chancer around the Middle East, North Africa and on to India, it has old vans, monasteries, contraband, romance, opium dens and the search for enlightenment – a historic, thrill packed document, a story told humorously, in around the campfire or sat in the pub, down home style,’ says the publisher’s note.

Billy Wells had a Cockney upbringing, a grammar school education and rebellious tendencies. Setting off naively, at 21, to travel the world in 1965, searching for adventure and the realm of the Beat Traveller. The journey back and forth to India takes five years. He finds, first monetary wealth, then cultural empathy and spiritual awakening. Recklessness, impatience, romance and a passion for drugs takes him to places few people have been to and from where even fewer have returned. From opium dens in Bombay to a monastery in Sri Lanka, many paths are trod. He eventually returns to the underground world of fellow travellers. Along with some great characters met on the road, he smuggles hashish in a beat-up van, bought in Kabul to sell to American Vietnam vets in Munich. He gets back home with enough money to make it to the first Isle of Wight pop festival,’ it adds.  

Bom Bom: A Wacky Hippie Trail Adventure, by Mark A. Tesoriero

Bom Bom is an adventure story of living in and surviving the seventies. A young Aussie and his mate leave their rock’n’roll lifestyle to campervan around Europe and then backpack the hippie trail home. Twelve months later they arrived in Bangkok broke, and set off in very different directions. One to life back home, and the other to further adventure. Join them on their amazingly crazy road trip through places and head spaces that defined a time,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘In the 1960s and 1970s tens of thousands of young Australians headed overseas on the big adventure. Some ended up in ‘Kangaroo Valley’ in London drinking vast quantities of Fosters. Others took various hippie trails and, although they little knew what they were doing, went on a complex journey of self-discovery. In Bom Bom, Mark Tesoriero has written the best, and most fascinating, account of a remarkable adventure and a remarkable life. Here, told in an easy conversational style without pretension and without any attempt at ‘gonzo’ style writing, is the story of a young Sydney man who headed out with a friend to experience the hippie trail. Here is the story of sailing from Australia to London; enjoying London in the early 1970s when the ‘Sixties’ were still swinging; and of planning to travel across Europe, the Middle East and Asia when it was still possible to travel through Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a story of friendships made; of loves and dalliances along the way; and of adventures in the eternal quest for good drugs and lots of fun. It is a slice of life, experienced with great joy and intensity, which many experienced but very few have written about with such clear-eyed honesty. Mark Tesoriero makes a mockery of that old cliché that ‘if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there.’ He remembers everything and he definitely was there,’ says Australian journalist and writer, Bruce Elder.

The Hippie Trail: After Europe, Turn Left, by Robert Louis Kreamer

‘In 1977, a twenty-year-old naive American takes a break from his university studies to undertake an epic nine-thousand-mile overland journey from Munich to Kathmandu. With his camera and his journal, he records and recounts his journey, wanderings and musings with candour and humour through cities and countries that are now inaccessible and too dangerous for the modern backpacking tourist. Like a later-day, international doppelganger version of On the Road, the search for universal truth and the meaning of life tramps alongside the author while visiting places like Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and Kabul with a casual nonchalance, and revealing a seemingly lost era of more freedom, openness, tolerance, and promise,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘A spiritual successor to both Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, The Hippie Trail’s voyage of self-discovery and casual nonchalance is illustrated with iconic reflections of the world around Kreamer, taken on 35-mm slides and film,’ it adds.

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