The Hippie Trail Was Seen As A Gateway To Paradise. Then It All Fell Apart

The Hippie Trail Was Seen As A Gateway To Paradise. Then It All Fell Apart

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Short of cash but looking for adventure? For carefree 1960s and ‘70s Western kids, that meant clambering onto a ramshackle bus to head east on a mind-blowing journey through new cultures, spiritual enlightenment and, occasionally, marijuana clouds. Join us as we retrace the route that inspired the Lonely Planet guidebooks.

The days of Silk Road traders journeying between Europe and Asia were fading into history when, in the last half of the 20th century, a new breed of carefree adventurer appeared on the scene.

They left the relative comforts of the West on overland voyages that would take months or even lifetimes. The first used pioneering bus services while others followed independently in battered old cars and vans, headed for places like Kabul, Kathmandu and Goa.

Tony and Maureen Wheeler, whose guide to the route became the cornerstone of the Lonely Planet publishing empire, were among those to make the trip. But it didn’t last. Scroll down to find out what happened to the route that inspired a generation of restless travelers.

A very gray Europe was still recovering from World War II when entrepreneur Oswald “Paddy” Garrow-Fisher rolled into London in his “Indiaman” bus in 1957, offering tickets for the 12,000-mile, weeks-long trip to faraway Calcutta and Bombay (now Kolkata and Mumbai).

Until then, travel between Europe and Asia was via expensive air routes or expensive — and boring — boat rides. Garrow-Fisher’s service offered an alternative that was marginally more economical but definitely more exciting.

The first passengers — on routes that rolled through Paris, Munich, Sofia, Istanbul, Tehran, Lahore and Delhi — needed to be adventurous. Accommodation was often tented, delays were frequent and the roads bumpy. But those who made the trips weren’t hippies.

More bus services followed, with operators such as Penn Overland or Swagman Tours offering itineraries including Beirut, Kabul, Sri Lanka and all points in between. The services became known as “The Magic Bus,” after an Amsterdam booking agency of the same name.

Independent travelers began tackling the route in whatever vehicles they could press into action. Accounts tell of fire trucks and vans adapted to make the trip. One double-decker bus named “Albert” went back and forth 15 times, sometimes as far as Australia.

By the mid-‘60s, the Hippie Trail was thriving, though followers called it the “Asia overland trip” and themselves “travelers” or “freaks.” Unofficial hubs sprang up, like Istanbul’s Pudding Shop, where a bulletin board helped hook up people heading in

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