Hello and welcome to our blog, the public face of our research project about the Hippy Trail. We’re currently writing a book about the trail, tentatively entitled Travellers to Nirvana: The Hippy Trail and the Counter-Culture, 1957—78. Some background: global travel boomed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century as the steam ship and the locomotive allowed distances to be crossed quickly and cheaply. Most journeys were utilitarian and commercial, but these new technologies also enabled a new form of leisure tourism, and package tours quickly developed. While some tourist ventures worked hand-in-hand with the structures of imperialism, other travellers suggested different values. For example, T.E. Lawrence was celebrated as a man opposed to the new spirit of vulgar commercialism: it was claimed his journeys transcended cultural and political divisions, and he met ‘other’ people as equals. The hippy trail to Morocco, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and other points east, which flourished between 1957 (when Jack Kerouac published his influential road narrative On the Road) and 1979 (when the Iranian Revolution closed the land route from Europe to India), was one of the last great expressions of such alternative or dissident tourism: North American and European travellers used VW vans, motorbikes and Land Rovers to travel East and their exploits quickly became a media cliché. In popular consciousness, knowledge of the hippy trail is still based mainly on stereotypical stories and images. But who were these travellers? Why did they travel? What routes did they take? What impact did they make on the local population, and vice versa? How have their experiences been recorded and depicted? What is the enduring legacy of these alternative forms of tourism?
As well as attempt to answer these questions, we will also explore depictions, recollections and representations of the Hippy Trail, including autobiographical travel narratives (e.g. Barrett, Christmas in Kathmandu). inspirational literature (Hesse, Kerouac), archival material (e.g. Foreign Office reports, newspaper stories), critical literature (written after the event, and usually very critical e.g. Hideous Kinky, The Paradise Trail), films (Easy Rider, Zabriskie Point, The Valley, Hideous Kinky) and music (“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf (1968), “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby Stills & Nash (1969), “Going Mobile” by The Who (1971), “Passage to Bangkok” by Rush (1976), and The Beatles’ turn towards Eastern music, dubbed by one critic as “Beatles Orientalis”).
Contributions are welcome, either to the blog or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Sharif Gemie & Dr. Brian Ireland
University of Glamorgan