I have so many books I’ve collected during and after trips all over the world, books on Latin America, Kenya, India, Nepal, Tibet, Turkey and Morocco. Today, I'm browsing through some of my books on the old Hippie Trail, the overland journey from Istanbul, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and Nepal.
The heyday of the hippie trail was the 1960s and 70s, before war, revolution and politics made the middle section of the overland journey difficult. It has opened up somewhat in the past couple decades. I missed the heyday: my pair of two-month trips to India, Nepal, and Tibet were in 1998 and 2000, and my visit to Istanbul in 2008.
There are plenty of books about the hippie trail, and I’ve read a few. In Rory MacLean’s Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India, the author revisits the trail forty years later to see what remains. A scene in Afghanistan encapsulates the vibe as a bus to Herat picks him up in the middle of nowhere:
On impulse, I sweep a strip of grit off its mottled surface. I see the crude ”Flying Muslim Coach” logo has been painted over flaking portraits of sultry beauties, their faces scratched out years earlier by Taliban fanatics. I brush away another coat of dirt and discover Russian words beneath the portraits, faded reminders of the Soviet occupation. With both arms, I rub again, pushing back another decade, reaching deeper into the collage and discovering that the Cyrillic characters themselves efface psychedelic, Day-Glo peace symbols.
The bus driver, thrilled to have his bus honored by the presence of a too-rare tourist, ejects the Afghan pop music cassette that is blaring, digs deep into a box and pops in a cassette of The Who. “Music for you! For you!”