The Lonely Planet Journey: The Hippie Trail

Tune in to a spiritual highway

Saturday 05 November 2011 01:00 GMT

In the 1960s and 70s, with free love coursing through the air, so-called "hippies" travelled overland from Europe to Turkey and through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India.

Hippies – the pioneers of so much of today's tourism – took to this route because it could be travelled cheaply (mainly via hitchhiking, buses and trains) and was as far away from the evil capitalist West as possible. Also, plenty of mystique was attached to these far-flung lands, a desirable quality for people seeking spiritual enlightenment at the same time as a good time.

The European capitals of free love and dope, London and Amsterdam, were the usual starting points for the journey. An ideal route wound through Europe via Yugoslavia and Greece (with a possible island side-trip) to Istanbul. From here, permutations varied, but a typical path went to Ankara, then through Iran to Tehran, to Kabul in Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar and Lahore in Pakistan, and then on to Kashmir, Delhi and Goa in India.

Today, the hippie trail is undergoing a revival with the rise in popularity of low-cost airlines and more accessible travel. But these days no one is "dropping out" – the "hippies" in these modern-day trails are often urban professionals.

The Journey Today

Sadly, it is currently against FCO advice to travel to Afghanistan. When this changes, cross the Iranian border near Mashhad and head to the old Silk Road city of Herat. There, you drink in views from the imposing Citadel before gazing at the fabulous mosaic tiling of the Friday Mosque. After a few days, you chart a course for the north-east. Reality bites now, with Afghanistan's volatile political situation forcing you to travel by air.

At Mazar-e Sharif discover Afghanistan's holiest site, the blue domes of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali. Nearby are the equally evocative ruins of Balkh, with its crumbling city walls and ancient mosques. Back on the bus, you make for Kabul, watching the plains gradually rise into the Hindu Kush mountains.

Across the Salang Pass, the main route between north and south Afghanistan, the road surface is better than normal but the traffic is crazy.

Arriving at the Afghan capital, Kabul, pay a visit to Chicken Street, a crucial node on the original trail, and where all kinds of handicrafts are still available today. Then you're on your way in a hired taxi to the Pakistan border, ready to leave Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass, the gateway to the Indian subcontinent and beyond – to further adventures in Nepal, Thailand or Bali.

Extract taken from 'Great Journeys', published by Lonely Planet (£29.99). Readers can buy a copy for £25 including UK P&P by going to and using the code INDEPENDENT

The Hippie Trail

Distance: 7,500km

Route: England, the Netherlands, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India

Best time of year: Any time you feel the need to get away from it all

Ideal time commitment: Two to three months

Essential tip: Check the latest security warnings before travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan (

Essential experiences

* Relaxing on Paradise Beach in Mykonos, Greece, celebrated in the 1960s for its blend of free love and unfettered carousing; now package tourists have replaced the hippies.

* Kicking back in Pai, northern Thailand. The hippie trail is alive and well with a New Age music and art scene co-existing with the local Shan, Thai and Muslim Chinese residents.

* Discovering the amazing beach at hedonistic Kuta in Bali, a popular stop on the original trail.

* Surveying the distant Himalaya at sunrise after trekking up to the rim of the Kathmandu Valley.

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