I feel sorry for ex-hippies. They must be disillusioned with the way the world’s turned out. And although they might not know it, in some ways they left it a worse place.
In his book Magic Bus, Rory MacLean suggests that the hippie trail to Kathmandu opened up hitherto peaceful and untainted regions to the grim conformity of mass tourism and commercialisation. He notes Bruce Chatwin’s theory that the young travellers pushed Afghanistan down the path to bloodshed and ruin by planting in people’s heads idealistic expectations of self-determination. Meanwhile, in newly-fashionable Goa, locals were barred from Western-frequented restaurants.
Veterans of the trail can’t realistically be blamed for being unaware of all this at the time. But unless they have no sense of irony, it must hate listening to themselves criticising the behaviour of today’s backpackers. They’ve turned into their own parents, who decades ago had furrowed their brows at the dropping out, drug-taking, and long hair of their offspring.
Pop music and drugs must have held their appeal at the time, but I wonder if the Westerners who stayed on in the Indian subcontinent feel melancholic and not a little lonely now (unless they’ve found a more wholesome and sustainable source of spiritual fulfilment).
In Magic Bus, we encounter an old-timer who in the 1960s turned his back on materialism and his parents and headed East. He now seems happily settled in Kathmandu, but he does lament that the city is ‘full of people reading the Lonely Planet guide to Vietnam. They sit in internet cafes sending each other text messages’. In his day, the important thing in life was discovering fellow humans, bonding through convivial guitar-strumming sessions on the beach.
The rebels and utopians of the 1960s find that young people aren’t like they used to be.