What happened to the Hippie Trail?

Written by Barry Neild Animation and video byAgne Jurkenaite and Sofia Couceiro

Short of cash but looking for adventure? For carefree 1960s and ‘70s Western kids, that meant clambering onto a ramshackle bus to head east on a mind-blowing journey through new cultures, spiritual enlightenment and, occasionally, marijuana clouds. Join us as we retrace the route that inspired the Lonely Planet guidebooks.


The days of Silk Road traders journeying between Europe and Asia were fading into history when, in the last half of the 20th century, a new breed of carefree adventurer appeared on the scene.

They left the relative comforts of the West on overland voyages that would take months or even lifetimes. The first used pioneering bus services while others followed independently in battered old cars and vans, headed for places like Kabul, Kathmandu and Goa.

Tony and Maureen Wheeler, whose guide to the route became the cornerstone of the Lonely Planet publishing empire, were among those to make the trip. But it didn’t last. Scroll down to find out what happened to the route that inspired a generation of restless travelers.

  • 1950s

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      Passengers board the ‘Indiaman’ at London Victoria. Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

      The ‘Indiaman’

      A very gray Europe was still recovering from World War II when entrepreneur Oswald “Paddy” Garrow-Fisher rolled into London in his “Indiaman” bus in 1957, offering tickets for the 12,000-mile, weeks-long trip to faraway Calcutta and Bombay (now Kolkata and Mumbai).

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      ‘Indiaman’ travelers make a stop in former Yugoslavia. George Elam/ANL/Shutterstock

      Exciting alternative

      Until then, travel between Europe and Asia was via expensive air routes or expensive -- and boring -- boat rides. Garrow-Fisher’s service offered an alternative that was marginally more economical but definitely more exciting.

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      The Turkish city of Istanbul in the 1950s. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

      The slow road

      The first passengers -- on routes that rolled through Paris, Munich, Sofia, Istanbul, Tehran, Lahore and Delhi -- needed to be adventurous. Accommodation was often tented, delays were frequent and the roads bumpy. But those who made the trips weren’t hippies.

  • 1960s

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      The Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka around 1965. Harvey Meston/Getty Images

      The Magic Bus

      More bus services followed, with operators such as Penn Overland or Swagman Tours offering itineraries including Beirut, Kabul, Sri Lanka and all points in between. The services became known as “The Magic Bus,” after an Amsterdam booking agency of the same name.

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      In 1961, students in London prepping their Land Rover trip to Nepal. PA Images/Alamy


      Independent travelers began tackling the route in whatever vehicles they could press into action. Accounts tell of fire trucks and vans adapted to make the trip. One double-decker bus named “Albert” went back and forth 15 times, sometimes as far as Australia.

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      Istanbul’s Pudding Shop still standing in November 2019. Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne/Alamy

      The Pudding Shop

      By the mid-‘60s, the Hippie Trail was thriving, though followers called it the “Asia overland trip” and themselves “travelers” or “freaks.” Unofficial hubs sprang up, like Istanbul’s Pudding Shop, where a bulletin board helped hook up people heading in the same direction.

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      Freak Street in Kathmandu, Nepal captured in 1976. Tony Wheeler

      Freak Street

      Certain destinations also grew into hippie hangouts. “Freak Street” in Kathmandu had the appeal of legally available cannabis. In Kabul -- where hashish and stronger drugs were also available and seemingly tolerated -- “Chicken Street” was the place to tune in and drop out.

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      Three of the Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Keystone Features/Getty Images

      The Fab Four

      The Beatles traveled by plane rather than bus to India when they hung out at an ashram in the town of Rishikesh in 1968. Their arrival put the mainstream spotlight on Western pursuits of spiritual -- and narcotic -- quests in Asia and added to their psychedelic appeal.

  • 1970s

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      Group relaxing on beach in Goa, India, around 1970. Keystone/Getty Images

      Hippie colonization

      As more explored, the trail extended its reach, taking followers to Indian destinations like Goa, where a hippie colony sprang up on the beach, and across Southeast Asia to Thailand, Indonesia and then on to Australia.

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      Lonely Planet co-founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, at the Taj Mahal in 1972. Tony Wheeler

      By the book

      In the 1970s, the first guidebooks to the Hippie Trail appeared. BIT, a countercultural information center in London, gathered together bundles of notes to create the “Overland to India and Australia.” Lonely Planet’s “Across Asia on the Cheap” followed in 1975.

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      Charles Sobhraj being led to New Delhi’s Tihar jail in 1977. Sipa Press/Newscom

      Death on the trail

      This was the decade when a serial killer stalked the trail. At least a dozen people, including backpackers, were suspected to have been killed by convicted murderer Charles Sobhraj, whose alleged exploits were recently dramatized in BBC TV series “The Serpent.”

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      Soldiers with Ayatollah Khomeini posters amid Iranian revolution. Keystone/Getty Images

      War and revolution

      It was also the decade when the Hippie Trail began to break apart. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan both disrupted overland routes. Conflicts and destabilization helped end hippie notions of a path to paradise and enlightenment.

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      Customers wait to check-in at Heathrow Airport in 1978. Evening Standard/Getty Images

      End of the line

      And finally, as commercial air travel became more affordable, young Western adventurers began flying direct to “exotic” Asian destinations to find themselves -- often with the safety net of a return ticket home.


Writer and interviewer
Barry Neild
Digital design
Woojin Lee, Mark Oliver
Web development
Byron Manley
Video art design
Ignacio Osorio, Elisa Solinas
Video design and animation
Agne Jurkenaite
Additional video design
Daisy Mella Roca, Emma Beinish
Senior video producer
Temujin Doran
Video producers
Sofia Couceiro, Teodora Preda
Planning producer
Angelica Pursley