A reading list on the Istanbul–Kathmandu route (the hippie trail)

One of my hobbies is learning about the overland trail between Europe and the Indian subcontinent that flourished in the 1960s and early 1970s, often called the hippie trail for its identification with the counterculture. On one hand, young people in those days had an opportunity that Europeans today lack: Afghanistan subsequently erupted into a series of wars that ended the possibility of easily transiting the region; some cities in Iran were developing quickly on a Western model due to the Shah regime, an era ended by the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, the journey took up to a month of hitchhiking or sitting in a bus when we today can fly today for a meagre amount of money, and many who made the journey lost weeks battling Hepatitis A, had problems with officialdom, or got lice. The publications on the era are a window into a very different world, by turns romantic and dismal.

  • David Tomory, A Season in Heaven: True Tales from the Road to Kathmandu (Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 1998) ISBN 0864426291. A collection of oral histories by a number of Western Europeans (and some Americans who started from Europe), covering many different aspects of the journey and describing various places in the Subcontinent that they settled in upon arrival. This book is the best place to get started on the era.
  • Patrick Marnham, Road to Katmandu (1st edition Macmillan, 1971, 2nd edition with new introduction by the author IB Tauris in 2005) ISBN 184511017X. A lightly fictionalized account of the author’s 1968 journey through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal.
  • Michael H.C. Baker, Journey to Kathmandu (London: David & Charles, 1974). Instead of just hippies, this account from the spring of 1967 represents what was in fact a more typical demographic among English-speaking travellers then: fairly conventional young people trying to get to and from Australia cheaply. Baker was a driver in a convoy of three covered lorries (trucks) that formerly belonged to the army. Carrying 46 passengers, they travelled for several weeks through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
  • Borna Bebek, Santhana: One Man’s Journey to the East (London: The Bodley Head, 1980) ISBN 0370302605. Right after graduating from university in his native Yugoslavia, Bebek set off on the overland trail in January 1977, though from Pakistan he sailed to Thailand and Mauritius before finally reaching India. Set against the memories of those who made the trip earlier, this book is interesting because it documents the little-discussed Yugoslav presence on the trail, and Bebek writes of how by 1977 the hippie era was already seen as ancient history. This is an English translation of the Serbo-Croatian original published as Santhana: Putopis (Zagreb: Nakladni zavod MH, 1979).

Another source of information is Nico Morrison’s project The Flower Raj, which tries to document the lives of Westerners who fell in love with India from 1950 on, a poignant task considering that so many of this generation have already passed away. The project’s blog includes a number of travelogues contributed by those who made the overland journey.

A reading list on the 1960s London counterculture

I have come to be fascinated by the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s, mainly the scene in London, though I’d like to read more about idealistic, highly mobile youth culture in other parts of Western Europe as well. Here I want to share the resources I’ve discovered so far. I generally limit the list to books written by active participants in the counterculture, as opposed to histories compiled by younger generations of writers.

  • David Tomory, A Season in Heaven: True Tales from the Road to Kathmandu (Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 1998) ISBN 0864426291. A collection of oral histories of Western Europeans who travelled in the 1960s and early 1970s from Europe through Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to the Indian Subcontinent, the so-called ‘hippie trail’.
  • Richard Neville, Playpower (London: Cape, 1970). Neville, one of the major figures in the London underground press, penned this chronicle of the social changes that he had witnessed while the era was still ongoing.
  • Richard Neville, Hippie Hippie Shake (London: Duckworth, 2nd ed. 2009) ISBN 0715637800. Written in the 1990s, Neville’s memoirs of his youth start with his student years in Australia and end with his 1971 prosecution for obscenity along with two other editors of the underground newspaper Oz.
  • Roger Hutchinson, High Sixties: The Summers of Riot & Love (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1992) ISBN 1851584374. The author, a student in the late Sixies and editor of underground publications in the early 1970s, has written a sweeping view of the decade based on memories of older acquaintances and archival material.
  • Nigel Fountain, Underground: The London Alternative Press, 1966–74 (Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1989) ISBN 0415007283. Fountain tracks the rise and fall of such countercultural periodicals as It, Oz, Black Dwarf, Friends/Frendz, Gandalf’s Garden, Ink, 7 Days, Suck and Time Out. Fountain has much to say about the development of feminism out of the rather sexist counterculture.
  • Jonathon Green, Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground, 1961–1971 (London: Pimlico, 1998) ISBN 0712666656. First published in 1988, Green carried out interviews with over 100 prominent figures in the Underground and assembled this massive oral history.
  • A Technicolor Dream (2008). This documentary film by Stephen Gammond is split between the counterculture and the early days of Pink Floyd, the “house band of the underground”. There are interviews with Barry Miles, John “Hoppy” Hopkins and others. The film goes no further than the end of 1967, by which time the counterculture had grown too commercial, according to some of the participants.