Following the Hippie Trail

BY RASHMI SINGH

The hippie trail is the name given to the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture and others from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s between Europe and South Asia, mainly from Turkey through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, to Nepal; an alternative route ran from Turkey to the Levant. The hippie trail was a form of alternative tourism, and one of the key elements was travelling as cheaply as possible, mainly to extend the length of time away from home. The term “hippie” became current in the mid-to-late 1960s; “beatnik” was the previous term from the later 1950s.

In every major stop of the hippie trail, there were hotels, restaurants and cafés for Westerners, who networked with each other as they travelled east and west. The hippies tended to interact more with the local population than traditional sightseers did.

The 1981 song “Down Under” by Australian rock band Men at Work sets out with a scene on the hippie trail while under the influence of marijuana: “Travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie.”

The Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil” appears to reference the dangers of traveling along the Hippie Trail in the 1960s, in the lines “And I laid traps for troubadours / Who get killed before they reached Bombay.”

Charles Sobhraj’s crimes along the trail are depicted in the 2021 eight-part BBC drama series The Serpent.

Journeys would typically start from cities in western Europe, often London, Copenhagen, West Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, or Milan. Many from the United States took Icelandic Airlines to Luxembourg. Most journeys passed through Istanbul, where routes divided. The usual northern route passed through Tehran, Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, Peshawar and Lahore on to India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. An alternative route was from Turkey via Syria, Jordan, and Iraq to Iran and Pakistan. All travellers had to cross through the Khyber Pass, traversing Peshawar and Lahore in Pakistan and over the Pakistan-India border at Ganda Singh Wala (or later at Wagah).

Classic destinations on the overland Hippie Trail.

Common destinations in the east included Delhi, Varanasi (then Benares), Goa, Bombay, Madras, Kathmandu and Bangkok. Kathmandu still has a road, Jhochhen Tole, nicknamed Freak Street in commemoration of the many thousands of hippies who passed through. Further travel to southern India, Kovalam beach in Trivandrum (Kerala), to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), and points east and south to Australia was sometimes also undertaken.

The hippie trail largely ended in the late 1970s primarily due to the Iranian Revolution resulting in an anti-Western government, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, closing the route to Western travellers.