The Road to Nirvana (Book Review)

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Review of Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India
by Rory MacLean (Ig Publishing)

Before Allen Ginsberg wrote about his year-and-a-half stay in India in the early ’60s, the subcontinent didn’t take up much space in the Western mind. But like so much in those days, the Western mind was changing, and soon thousands of young seekers were setting off along the road where Ginsberg had posted his existential arrow sign: “Find Thyself, This Way.”

Before long, the old Silk Road had become the “Hippie Trail,” and it changed the world in ways that haven’t been fully appreciated until the publication of Rory MacLean’s wistfully merry Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India.

Nearly 30 years after the trail was cut off by the Iranian revolution, MacLean set out to see what was left of the route, starting at the Pudding Shop restaurant in Istanbul, where travelers piled into smoke-filled buses before rolling east through Iran, Pakistan, India, and finally to Kathmandu, where they stayed while they searched for something like nirvana.

MacLean finds that many traces of the old trail still exist, and he even runs into old travelers looking for the places where they once found themselves, including “Penny,” a woman who claims to be the original flower child. MacLean’s vivid writing shows how much the Hippie Trail changed not only the way we travel (giving us Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and the budget travel industry), but also the places it passed through and the people who traveled on it.

This review is from the July-August 2009 issue of Utne Reader.

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