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A forgotten Pakistan: once an essential stop on the holy pilgrimage of hippies

A forgotten Pakistan: once an essential stop on the holy pilgrimage of hippies

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There was a bygone era where Pakistan was a famed stop on what can be termed the holy pilgrimage of hippies. Hippies, beatniks and the occasional intrepid traveller would all frequent the Hippie Trail in the 60s and 70s. The Hippie Trail was a famous overland route that started in Europe and went through Asia, and Pakistan was one of its essential stops on the way further east. It was to the hippies what the Grand Tour was to wealthy British aristocrats. Just like wealthy, young, 18th century aristocrats would anticipate the moment they turned 21 to be able to go off and galavant across Europe, many a hippie in the 60s dreamt of the day they could set out on the Hippie Trail.

Travellers on the Hippie Trail would usually start in Western European cities like London, Berlin and Amsterdam, etc. And then make their way to Turkey, from there they would travel to Tehran, Herat, Kabul and into Pakistan by way of the Afghan border. They would first arrive in Landi Kotal after passing through the Khyber Pass, where quite a few travellers have recounted that they encountered many a smuggler openly attempting to sell them opium or counterfeit guns that they town was infamous for. After that those on the trail would alight in Peshawar. Where they sought out Pakistan’s renowned hash. In particular the Chitrali variety of hash also brought down to Peshawar, which is a striking purple-grey colour and induces a pleasantly relaxed feeling in the body. After having a smoke fest in Peshawar, the next stop for hippies on the trail would be Lahore. Given Lahore’s history of being a gastronomical heaven, we can assume that the hippies on the trail ate well and ate cheaply too. 

Another facet of the Hippie Trail was that it wasn’t some luxurious tour, rather those who traversed it did so cheaply and with little baggage. They travelled light so that they could pick up and move on to the next destination at a moments notice. And, as a result of traveling cheaply the travellers ended up staying in small motels and hotels popular with the locals. Staying in such places allowed the hippies to interact with local citizens in way that regular tourists still do not. This resulted in cafe’s and restaurants popping up that specifically catered to the foreign travellers, where locals served traditional food made to suit their palettes. Many travellers were probably grateful these places existed to give them a break from spicy food that had them glued to the toilet. Hippies on the trail tended to use local buses and trains in order to cut costs. But some would deck out Volkswagen vans, painted in bright colours and peace signs, and drive this route too. These Kombis were a frequent sight along the route when it was still heavily travelled. 

Unfortunately, with the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution and the Zia regimes public floggings and hyper-islamisation the trail no longer remained safe to travel for foreigners. Towards the end of the 70s, there was barely anyone on the Hippie Trail. Now all that remains of this trail and its culture are pictures and stories from those that once travelled it. 

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