Today’s ‘hippie’ trail beckons all

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iol travel sep 6 Kathmandu REUTERS A monkey looks for food near an ashram in Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.

London - In the 1960s and ’70s, with free love coursing through the air, “hippies” travelled overland from Europe to Turkey and through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India.

Hippies – the pioneers of so much of today’s tourism – took to this route because it could be travelled cheaply (mainly via hitchhiking, buses and trains) and was as far away from the evil capitalist West as possible. Also, plenty of mystique was attached to these far-flung lands, a desirable quality for people seeking spiritual enlightenment as well as a good time.

The European capitals of free love and dope, London and Amsterdam, were the usual starting points for the journey. An ideal route wound through Europe via Yugoslavia and Greece (with a possible island side-trip) to Istanbul.

From here, permutations varied, but a typical path went to Ankara, then through Iran to Tehran, to Kabul in Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar and Lahore in Pakistan, and then on to Kashmir, Delhi and Goa in India.

Today, the hippie trail is undergoing a revival with the rise in popularity of low-cost airlines and more accessible travel. But nowadays, no one is “dropping out” – the “hippies” in these modern-day trails are often urban professionals.

It is currently against the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice to travel to Afghanistan. When this changes, however, cross the Iranian border near Mashhad and head to the old Silk Road city of Herat. There, you drink in views from the imposing Citadel before gazing at the fabulous mosaic tiling of the Friday Mosque. After a few days, chart a course for the north-east.

At Mazar-e Sharif, discover Afghanistan’s holiest site, the blue domes of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali.

Nearby are the equally evocative ruins of Balkh, with its crumbling city walls and ancient mosques. Back on the bus, you head for Kabul, watching the plains gradually rise into the Hindu Kush mountains. Across the Salang Pass, the main route between north and south Afghanistan, the road surface is better, but the traffic is crazy.

Arriving at the Afghan capital, Kabul, pay a visit to Chicken Street, a crucial node on the original trail. Then, you’re on your way in a hired taxi to the Pakistan border, ready to leave Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass, the gateway to the Indian subcontinent and beyond – to further adventures in Nepal, Thailand or Bali. – The Independent

l Extract taken from Great Journeys, published by Lonely Planet.

If You Go...

Distance: 7 500km

Route: England, the Netherlands, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India.

Best time of year: Any time you feel the need to get away from it all.

Ideal time commitment: Two to three months.

Essential tip: Check the latest security warnings before travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan (fco.gov.uk).

Essential experiences

l Relaxing on Paradise Beach in Mykonos, Greece, celebrated in the 1960s for its blend of free love and unfettered carousing; now package tourists have replaced the hippies.

l Kicking back in Pai, northern Thailand. The hippie trail is alive and well with a New Age music and art scene co-existing with the local Shan, Thai and Muslim Chinese residents.

l Discovering the amazing beach at hedonistic Kuta in Bali, a popular stop on the original trail.

l Surveying the distant Himalayas at sunrise after trekking to the rim of the Kathmandu Valley.

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