Overland on the Hippie Trail
It was a new age, one called the Age of Aquarius, with a restless, ideological generation full of a reverence for new worlds opening up to new ideas. When the Beatles introduced the mystique of India to pop culture, the Hippie Trail was established as hip adventurers traveled overland from Europe to Kathmandu and India.
Hunter was not among these hipsters. Still bitter over the way he was treated as a Marine combat veteran home from the Vietnam War, he felt the allure of the open road in America and in Europe. While getting visas in Vienna, he came across a Polish girl, Ewa, whose Politburo father got her unequal privileges she gladly abused to join Hunter on the trek to India to check out the new-age ashrams.
Shared experiences and hardships bonded them, but Cold War politics made falling in love the worst hardship of all.
t’s strange how so much in life intertwines, the complex networking in our brain and the way it stores and links so many of our memories.
I am a big Beatles fan, and while searching on an Internet browser for one of their love ballads, I found other artists who performed the song, in particular, a female duet from Vienna.
I always loved Vienna. It was the epicenter of European grandeur not all that long ago—music, art, sophistication. The Hapsburg dynasty ruled Europe’s most impressive empire from there for centuries. I had an aunt belonging to that nobility, which put a personal flavor on this glory for me.
But Vienna means much more to me now. Some of my warmest memories originate from that city. For that’s where I met Ewa.
Ewa spelled her name with a “w,” though it is pronounced as a “v,” as is the case for Germanic languages. In addition, the “e” leading in her name was pronounced as a long “a” would be in English, making her name sound like “Ava,” as in Ava Gardner, the movie actress.
I first visited Vienna from Frankfurt, West Germany, in my twenties, when I worked as a civil servant for the US military in 1974. But a few years later I was back, and not just as a tourist. I was dissatisfied with my life.
The irony is that by my return to Vienna in 1978, I seemed to be living the life of the hippie subculture I thought I detested. I wore blue jeans and travelled around with a backpack as if I was one, in spite of my short, blond hair and my still traditional and patriotic outlooks to life. A hippie without the drugs, sex, or rock-and-roll, you might say. And my name set the record straight also, a very unhippie name: Hunter.
By Vienna, 1978, I wanted to go overland. Overland by way of what was called the Hippie Trail. India was the chic place to go, if you were a true adventurer. I still hated hippies, but I did love this about them, their free and open-road way of life, the wanting to get out of the mold, away from the rat race, and see things and places you’d only read or heard about. The Marines got me started on that, structured as it was in a war zone called Vietnam, but I loved my generation’s open-road spirit and wanted to follow it too, to see these places first hand and not as a part of a group tour package of five countries in three days.
I wanted to mingle with the crowds, the locals, to eat their food and put up with the hardships, to sleep in a ditch if I must, or in some sleazy hotel. I wanted to experience the joy and pure fun of staying in exotic place after exotic place.
The Hippie Trail began in Vienna. That’s why I was there. Vienna was the capital of Austria, which meant it had embassies where you could get the travel visas you needed for the Asian countries you passed through on the way to India. And Vienna was on the edge of Asia Minor, where these Asian countries began.
It seemed fitting that it was my search on the Internet for a Beatles song that reminded me indirectly of those days and of meeting Ewa. For it was the Beatles who introduced my generation to India. Not the historical India so much as the India of the new mystique—meditation, incense, ashrams, the sitar, and yoga.
My memories were fresh and vivid, on one hand, and with a dreamlike surrealness on the other. How precious indeed those days were.