Dum maaro dum. How the trip has changed. Back then Zeenat Aman swayed in a Kathmandu café. It was the peak of hippie mania when flower people in psychedelic clothes and Kafkaesque glasses flocked to the East to devour mysticism. Today,it is Deepika Padukone with an item number under the strobe lights in a Goan discotheque.
No two trips are the same. Long gone are the magic bus days. Back then,middle-class Americans,fed up with the war and the Commie scare and with a conviction against consumerism,shed their material shackles and took to the road. To the complete unknown.
The hippies would journey from Europe. They would catch the bus,stick notes on hostel notice boards,and strangers would become friends. The magic bus floated through Istanbul,Tehran,Kabul and finally those who V.S. Naipaul dismissed as sentimental wallowers would find their way to Goa and Kathmandu.
That is no more. Politics happened,lines were drawn and visas required. The Shah has been replaced by the Ayatollah,Kabuls cafes fear the possibility of another terrorist attack,and India has become the road most travelled.
In the days of Lonely Planet,the hippie trail has changed. Sure,you see drifters with dreadlocks and the peace pipe does get passed around,but the touts are there yelling,shouting. For much of the last decade,the northern Goan fishing village of Arambol was still the place where the Beat manifestos were read,Bob Dylan wannabes strummed and people of all colours and stripes could bum. That trip too changed. In
Anjuna,the mecca of the Sixties,parties now end at 11 pm.
With the arrival of of Israeli tourists,the onslaught of gap-year kids and burgeoning restaurants in Goa,the hippies picked up their belongings and moved on. Goa got too commercial,its beach now more akin to a sidewalk.
Alternative routes had to be chartered. Thus came the East Asian trail through Bangkok,Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. But one destination was kept private and shared only with like-minded people: Laos. The sleepy town of Luang Prabang had thinkers floating along the Mekong Delta. Mushroom bars opened. That was the summer of 2002. Then,again,the camera-kids came and the location changed.
A disgruntled traveller once said,It seems everyone wants to be a hippie these days. So clubs have formed and rules apply. The Sixties flower children paved the way for the Noughties global nomads. Right attire is required. Along with the dress code (sexy army fatigue),membership has become a norm.
The new hippie trail survives through word of mouth and social networking sites. For those in the know,it is back to Arcadian ideals,harping on oneness with nature. Inchoate colonies form,such as the Gathering of the Eternal Light of the Rainbow Family. The Rainbow Family moves from one destination to another,trotting the globe,living pastoral lives in rural communes. They pride themselves on being a multicultural family open to all. Together,they shun a world that they say is orientated towards wealth,power and success. For them,not much matters other than the love for Gaia,Mother Earth. They continue to chant Hare Krishna,Hare Rama,but they kick the wannabes out.
Then there are the Bourgeoisie Bohemians of todays modern societies. Those who,writer David Brooks says,are an elite that has been raised to oppose an elite. They are affluent yet opposed to materialism… They are by instinct anti-establishmentarian,yet somehow they sense they have become a new establishment. They come with iPads and BlackBerrys and their annual pilgrimage is the Burning Man Festival. It is a bohemian week of literature and poetry,fire-twirling and theory-building. On the seventh day,the Bo-Bos burn it all. Who cares about materialism anyway? In London,the new secret is the aptly named Secret Garden Party.
Yet,some continue to wander unconvinced,staunch in their anti-establishment sentiments,believing in the power of self,traversing new trails. A traveller I met in Dali,a bohemian enclave in China,laughed at the prospect of a bankruptcy in the original hippie movement. Hed been on the trail for four decades. He offered me a secret to his travels. A way to survive on five pounds per day,the real hippie way: Travel with an original volume from the 1960s.
I did through China and,of course,he was right. The sixties can still be a way of life.
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