On the Hippie Trail: looking back

What motivated those hundreds of thousands of young people to travel overland to India and Nepal?

Low-budget travelling to far away places such as the Middle East had become popular among an avant-garde of the European youth since the nineteen fifties. They had developed a fancy for the adventurous life on the road and the exotic lands and peoples to be encountered. It was only a matter of time before the road to India became a target of their exploratory drive. In the same period, the first buses appeared on the overland route to Asia. Details are to be found in the book by Rory MacLean (see below).

On the other side of the North Atlantic, Jack Kerouac rose to fame with his autobiographical hitchhiker's Odyssey On the Road (1957) and came up with the vision of a 'Rucksack Revolution', followed by beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who made a trip to India in the early sixties. This so-called 'Beat Generation' inspired young Americans in the sixties. During that decade, popular culture developed a taste for spiritual enlightenment, culminating in the psychedelic movement and a growing interest in the religions of the East. In addition, the gloomy perspective of being drafted for the Vietnam War, provided an incentive for young American males to hit the road.

Fueled by the 'Summer of Love' (1967) and the trip the Beatles took to India half a year later, 'going to India' became a cult. Hippie Trail travellers constituted a fairly heterogeneous crowd. For the sake of argument, two stereotypes are distinguished here, while in reality the variety in backgrounds and motives was, of course, much greater. The regular travellers, mainly students and people in a career break, were joined by hardcore dropouts - the genuine hippies. While the former usually knew how to deal with the logistics and hazards of travelling, the latter often did not. They easlily ran into trouble, such as cash shortage and problems with the authorities. Quite a few overstayed their visas or were arrested for travelling by train without a ticket. Drugs were another source of trouble. Some of them got busted for possession already in Istanbul, which would usually - as we all know since Midnight Express - turn into a nightmare.

However, as the book by David Tomory (see below) suggests, most hippies found their way. They became long-stay residents in Kathmandu, Dharamsala, Rishikesh, Goa and so on. Some of them found a guru or got involved in a religious community, while others lived in some hippie commune without much interaction with the local population. Like the regular travellers, the vast majority of hippies eventually returned home and became respectable citizens.

Some of the returning Hippie Trail travellers brought their diaries and pictures. Carrying a camera was, however, considered 'uncool' by most of the hippies. They often brought home only their memories. Anyway, the veterans seem to have kept their stories all for themselves. Books on the Hippie Trail are rare. The ones I came across are listed below.

Comments and additions are welcome.
Hippie Trail veterans in particular are invited to post their stories here.

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Alphen, Frank van (2008), 'Hippie Trail, reizen in de seventies', Walburg Pers
Adventures on the Trail in 1975 and 1979 (in Dutch)

Axel, Birgit (1970), 'H', Flammarion
Personal account of a French girl on the Hippie Trail (in French)

Davis, Gerald (2014?), 'Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names', pennoverlandstory@bigpond.com
The Penn Overland Story

MacLean, Rory  (2006), '
Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from London to India', Viking
Retracing on foot and by bus the wide-eyed Hippie Trail adventures along the route reopened for the first time in a generation. Crossing a region swept through extraordinary and turbulent changes since the Summer of Love.

Moore, Peter  (2005), 'The Wrong Way Home: London to Sidney the Hard Way', Bantam Book Ltd.
London to Sydney in 25 countries - that's the task that Peter Moore, an Australian working in England, set himself. The catch was that he had to travel overland, no flights allowed within a budget of five thousand Australian dollars. Because of "pure, unadulterated hippy envy" he attempts to discover the music, sex and drugs of the 60s hippy trail. The Wrong Way Home tells the story of his journey through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

Purcell, Conor  (2019), 'The Rise and Fall of the Hippie Trail', Open Skies, October volume, Motivate Media Group, Dubai

Szuveges, Grant  (2014), 'The Overland Hippie Trail to India and Nepal in the 1960s and 1970s', Thesis submitted as part of the Final Honours Examination History Program, La Trobe University, Melbourne [.pdf]

Theroux, Paul (1975), 'The Great Railway Bazaar', Ballantine, New York
Doing the Hippie Trail was not synonimous with travelling by train. But except for Afghanistan - more precisely: between Mashhad and the Khyber Pass - and some minor disruptions, the whole trip from Western Europe to India and beyond could be made by train. There were few Hippie Trail travellers who did not, at least now and then, take the train. That is the connection between this book by Paul Theroux, which deals almost exclusively with the railway experience (in 1973), and the Hippie Trail.

Tomory, David (1998), 'A Season in Heaven: True tales from the Road to Kathmandu', Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne
The author, himself a veteran of the road to Kathmandu, interviewed a variety of former travellers who went looking for enlightenment and descovered a world that changed their lives.

More titles are to be found in Wikipedia


Some interesting video material on the Hippie Trail is available on YouTube

More Hippie Trail: Europe | Home

© Hans Roodenburg (The Netherlands), 2006

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