Magic bus (you can't have it)
March 13, 2009 12:09 AM   Subscribe

From the late sixties to late seventies, many adventurers set out on an overland trek from Istanbul to India or Nepal using the route known as The Hippie Trail. The starting off point from Europe was typically the Pudding Shop in Istanbul. There, you could meet others and arrange transportation, usually by bus. The route was flexible, but the typical route was from Istanbul through Tehran, Herat, Kabul, Peshawar, Lahore to Goa or Kathmandu.The Islamic revolution in Iran and Russian invasion of Afghanistan brought the trail to an end in 1979, but some people are trying to start it back up (sans Afghanistan, the Khyber is still pretty dangerous). posted by Bernt Pancreas (25 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
And the worn-out, beat-up travel guide you'd use along the way: Overland to India and Australia
posted by shii at 12:39 AM on March 13, 2009

These days there's Ozbus (previously).
posted by Harald74 at 1:05 AM on March 13, 2009

And I laid traps for troubadors
Who get killed before they reached Bombay.
posted by troy at 1:11 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Do you get bonus points for blowing up Ozbus? Or maybe I'm confusing the Hippie Trail with Viking Defense (previously) ...

I love the romance of the old Hippie Trail, though I had heard it described as the "Three K's" - Kabul, Kathmandu, and Kuta. And while I usually hate boomer nostalgia, and have less patience for ex-hippes than with for other boomer-types, they've got me here. I would have absolutely loved to have been one of those "rucksack wanderers."

Ozbus, and the other adventure-drinking tours, sound like hell. I've crossed paths with them while on the road. They arrive in a village, take a tour, get drunk, then leave the next morning. I suppose I should give them credit for "leave no trace" - if you blink you might never know that they had just passed through your area.
posted by kanewai at 1:33 AM on March 13, 2009

ugh. I linked too fast. I just read some other pages from the "rucksack" link and I am no longer envious - or at least not of that particular trip.
posted by kanewai at 1:45 AM on March 13, 2009

People love slagging off the hippies but some pretty good things came out of some of those trips which helped inspire some good people. Here's another travelogue.
posted by adamvasco at 4:11 AM on March 13, 2009

There, you could meet others and arrange transportation, usually by bus.

I would love to go, but I'm not quite ready to take the plunge.
posted by pracowity at 4:15 AM on March 13, 2009

(sans Afghanistan, the Khyber is still pretty dangerous).

Vice is sensationalizing the hell out of it - I've been a couple times and the locals are very welcoming (the guy on the right does not wanna kill me, I promise). The town is actually somewhat of a tourist attraction.

*As a side-note, that Hippie Trail site makes me wanna puke.
posted by gman at 4:18 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India - recent book on it with good reviews. See also the classic The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) in which Paul Theroux took the hippie trail in its day and mocks it mercilessly (don't bother with his recent Ghost Train).
posted by stbalbach at 4:53 AM on March 13, 2009

A former girlfriend of mine took that route in the late '60s. She almost died of hepatitis and spent a year recovering in some subcontinental shithole, plus she acquired an addiction to a James Taylor album that was on heavy repeat in one of the buses she took. I've never romanticized the Hippie Trail.
posted by languagehat at 6:37 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had friends do it from England.

My ex and me tried to do it in 1973, hitched as far as Athens, where we run out of money. So we got a job on a charter boat sailing around the Greek islands. All was going great till one day I decided to go rock climbing, resulting in me falling about 60 feet and breaking my neck, I was very luck not to end up paralyzed or dead, so no we did'nt make India, we ended up going back to Amsterdam were we lived for six months.

After that we came back to the UK settled down and done the conventional thing.
posted by dollyknot at 6:43 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did it, California to NYC to Europe to Istanbul to Kabul. Kabul to Kashmir, Delhi, Kathmandu, Madras, Sri Lanka; back by similar route. 1974-75. I grew up, and it was a great adventure I could never have done later. I'm grateful for having my eyes opened to the big world.
posted by lathrop at 7:40 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Theirs was the greatest journey of the age.

Neil Armstrong, eat your heart out.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:58 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

This fascinates me.

As someone who was born in 1975, (the year Paul Theroux was apparently dragging his long-winded, charmless crankiness along the Trail), I'm obviously way too young to have done it back then, and I'm not about to sign up for that Ozbus thing.

I wonder if there are any similar contemporary journeys that are less burdened by war and nostalgia? Through SE Asia maybe? South America?
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:39 AM on March 13, 2009

of course there are, drjimmy! Head to Lonely Planet or Boots n All and there are endless discussions on RTW (round the world) trips. Pick your level of adventure. SE Asia is "adventure 101" - Bangkok to Bali is a well traveled route with thousands of backpackers on it. That's a good and bad thing, but it's an awesome into to long-distance traveling.

My eyes are on the old Silk Road, Istanbul to China through Central Asia. That one sounds a bit more hard core, and is definitely not as well traveled.

Another potential journey is Bangkok to Goa via Yunan Province, Tibet, and Nepal.

Istanbul to Cairo is a classic, but you need to figure out how to cross Syria if you're American.

S. America has plenty of routes, though I've never done long distance traveling there.
posted by kanewai at 10:25 AM on March 13, 2009

Neil Armstrong, eat your heart out.

I'd rather have gone "across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India in search of adventure, enlightenment and a better world" in the 1960s than have gone to the moon with an air force pilot in something that would make a VW feel spacious. When you got to the moon, you wouldn't be able to go out unless you were sealed inside a thick suit, you wouldn't be able to touch, taste, smell, or hear anything but what you brought with you, and you wouldn't see anything but rocks, dust, and the guy whose farts you had been breathing for the last three or four days.

Unless... your real name isn't Gorsky, is it?
posted by pracowity at 11:28 AM on March 13, 2009

...the Khyber is still pretty dangerous...

That whole part of the world is pretty dangerous. That woman who was hitchhiking while wearing a wedding dress didn't even make it out of Turkey before she got murdered.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2009

...but you need to figure out how to cross Syria if you're American.
posted by kanewai

Why's that?

That whole part of the world is pretty dangerous.
posted by Chocolate Pickle

Really? Is this something you'd have to not think the media has an agenda to believe?
posted by gman at 11:43 AM on March 13, 2009

Did Syria change their policy? When I checked a year ago getting a visa seemed like a royal pain unless you had a sponsor.
posted by kanewai at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2009

So is that te hippie trail that Men at Work were singing about in their Song "Land Down Under"?

Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast

posted by happyroach at 2:32 PM on March 13, 2009

I just did the Istanbul to Cairo run in April and May of '07 as part of a RTW trip with no problem. I'm American and had heard very scary stories about the impossibility of getting a Syrian visa but didn’t have a problem at all.

On a Friday afternoon, Ms. HillPeople and I drove over to the Syrian Embassy. The place doesn't get any traffic vs. a place like the Chinese Embassy, so we were chatting with the guy manning the forms window. Actually, he was the only individual we met at the Syrian Embassy. While asking about our backgrounds, affinity for Zionist plots, and the usual, he found out the Ms. HillPeople is an English teacher near where he lives. All of a sudden, the three month process of begging for a visa just to have it denied went out the window. We would recommend a ESL class for his wife to help her adjust to America and he would take care of us.

Come Monday night, we went back with instructions on how to enroll his wife in an ESL class. That was it. We had proven ourselves part of the two thousand year old Arab tradition of bypassing an unbendable set of rules by helping a guy out with a favor that must be repaid with a larger favor. We got the mondo six month validity visa in a record on two business days, we got recommendations on where to eat in Aleppo, and we were told that we must stay with his family (and how to contact them) while in Damascus because we were now friends of the family. That was my first encounter with Arab hospitality, and it impressed me greatly.

Just as an interesting aside, each visa issued to an American get’s a number. We could figure out that only about 4,600 Americans had been given a visa to get into Syria in the first ten months of 2007. That said, Syria really is committed to not letting anyone in that has an Israeli stamp in their passport. So, if you ever fly into Israel, get them to staple your visa in, and you’re good to go.

So, there’s no problem (as of two years ago) with getting into Syria as an American. Besides having some issues in the gender interaction and sexual frustration department, it was actually a pretty cool country full of decent people that were exceptionally polite and courteous to Americans. I would certainly recommed it over Turkey, Jordan, or Egypt for enjoyablity and character.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 3:08 PM on March 13, 2009

It's hand-pressed, man! Not the commercial shit that they keep for the tourists, this is the stuff that the monks in the temple keep for themselves!

Bom Shankar!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:10 PM on March 13, 2009

Between 1961 and 1979 – when the Asia Overland trail was closed by the Iranian Revolution -- hundreds of thousands of Western kids, in flares and open-toe sandals, headed across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India in search of adventure, enlightenment and a better world. Theirs was the greatest journey of the age.

Oh sweet Jesus. The eye-rolling, it hurts.

I had a friend in high school whose older sister did this with a bunch of friends. One girl, who I've always since admired, arrived in India, looked around, went to the nearest orphanage, gave them all her money, and then took the next flight back to Canada.

Essential reading here is Gita Mehta's Karma Cola. Safe to say that there were many Indians who didn't take too well to numbers of rich (relatively) drug-using young Westerners setting up camp around their country.
posted by jokeefe at 5:51 PM on March 13, 2009

You know who else says "Bom Shankar!"?
posted by gman at 6:19 PM on March 13, 2009

whoo hoo! Awesome post. Just my cuppa chai. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 9:36 PM on March 13, 2009

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