Fancy taking a break in India or Pakistan at the moment? Me neither
Sunday 31 May 1998
I wonder what the old hippies think of this. They have already been hounded out of their natural breeding grounds in Goa by the arrival of mass tourism to the area. For years they have been forced to keep moving by the relentless march of development, yearly packing up their didgeridoos in the search for undiscovered nudist beaches and palm-thatched shacks.
But now, instead of nudes, nukes. Will Bacchic parties on the beach under full-moons ever seem like fun again?
Presumably not, given that one of the inspirations for the original hippy flight to Goa in the first place was precisely to escape from the nervous, nuclear-threatened wastelands of Europe.
Another inspiration was India's general image of being anti-technology. It was a land where people worked in non-polluting cottage industries, quietly weaving bedspreads on wooden looms and carving Krishnas out of sandlewood. It had no place for anything as vulgar as twentieth century machinery - let alone weaponry.
In short, the attraction of India was that you could go there to live on nothing, eat nothing, wear no clothes, do nothing, be nothing. But be deeply mellow.
Even the root cause of the trouble, Kashmir, was a place where whole villages could devote themselves to such leisurely industries as cricket bat production and where the Nishat gardens of Srinagar were disturbed by nothing more stressful than bumble bees.
These days there is a nasty shooting match taking place on the border, hospitals are being bombed, and four young backpackers are still being held hostage - or worse - somewhere deep in the mountains.
But in the mean time, over on the Pakistani side of the border, the grand Karakorum is still populated by charming people who speak more languages than existed in the Tower of Babel. Backpackers are eating banana pancakes in the cool rain of Gilgit and the semi-mythical Hunza Valley, and escaped hippies are coming to get stoned in the fabulous green valleys of eastern Baltistan, hard up by that disputed border with India. Under the granite spires of the Saltoro Valley everything is - or was - massively, monumentally mellow.
Isn't it odd how the mellow places always seem to end up at war. Another relaxing place in the old days was Afghanistan. Following that, there was Sri Lanka. We still have to hope that recent events in Indonesia are not about to put Bali at risk.
Is there a pattern here? I suspect it could be that people do not like being branded as eternally mellow (let alone primitive or lacking in technology). And can you blame them? People from places known to the world as gentle, cheap, slow and easy-going sooner or later get the urge to demonstrate that they can be tough, expensive and demanding when the need arises.
Hippies have made quite a serious impact on the psyche of India. It is well-known that local tour operators bring large numbers of (male) Indian sight-seers into Goa from around the country, primarily to view semi-naked Europeans; unsurprisingly, Hindu nationalists rage about hippies corrupting the morals of the country.
And there we have it. By a sad, strange irony, it turns out that the people who came to find inner peace in India may have inadvertently brought the bomb with them.
Simon Calder looks at communities fighting back against the poachers
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