Pasted on the last page of this album is a map. A thick red line runs across this map from west to east, beginning at Istanbul on the Black Sea, travelling across the Middle East and ending at the Taj Mahal in Delhi. During the 1960s and 70s, this alternative, down-to-earth tourist trek was known as the ‘Hippie Trail’. The word ‘hippie’ is derived from the 1950s word ‘hipster’, an epithet that still signifies a fashionable coterie of hirsute handicrafters.
The first edition of Lonely Planet, a series of budget travel guides with a current annual turnover of $85 million, was written about the Hippie Trail. ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’ was published in 1973, written by Tony Wheeler. He had made the trip with his wife, Maureen, in 1972. The first edition was a zine stapled together at their kitchen table. It provides many valuable insights, but the most entertaining aspect of the book is its attitude toward smoking dope. In a chapter dedicated to this, the sole advice is to stay stoned and out of prison (a ‘short-haired wig’ is recommended at one point for crossing borders) for the entire 2,826 miles journey, or more. The photos I have picked out here are the best in the album; most of the others are of distant, blurry, ancient ruins, and the odd snake charmer.
For the photographer, the guide had this advice:
“If you are a camera fan, take plenty of films. It is incredible how much film you will get through on a trip like this and between South East Asia and Europe film is chronically expensive. If you are travelling up from Australia the best idea is to take enough to get to Singapore or Penang then stock up on the duty free stuff. We used 5 reels of 36 exposures film and if we had had more we would have used it too. Don’t worry if you do run out of film as you can get major brands easily throughout Asia and the Middle East, but once again, it costs. Be cool in who you point your camera at, if they seem disturbed by it, don’t. Especially be careful about photographing women in the strongly Moslem countries, cameras can be a major cause of hassles. In general you will find that people are quite happy to be photographed. I took a photograph of one of the fascinating little open air bakeries in Afghanistan and the whole staff were up and posing. You are probably best advised to take your exposed film with you and get it developed in Europe, except in Singapore where the local developing is fast and good. If you decide to mail film ahead to be developed, or back home, take care. Little packages, especially from places like Afghanistan, are treated with suspicion by customs – x-raying a film to see what is inside doesn’t do the pictures any good.”
Under the heading ‘VISAS’, there is a note on photographs:
“Raid the piggy bank, rush round to your favourite photo booth and get dozens. Three dozen might not be too many, every visa seems to require two or three plus you’ll want others for I.D. papers, passport, driving licence and student cards. Asians are very big on photos and you may feel obliged to present a photo of your own sweet face to someone who has been particularly nice. So take photos, they’re cheaper now than later.”
Experts did not write this book; it is an example of peer-to-peer learning, something that is common now on the Internet. The demise of the Hippie Trail was also prescient. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, an event that steers geopolitics today, was to end it.
Nigel Martin Shephard