Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I really can’t remember how we came to the decision that traveling overland to India was a good idea. It was a natural progression from the life I had been living since I jumped from the straight and narrow of grammar school and a probable future of forty years of uninteresting employment (‘twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day-shift’) into the exciting acid-fuelled anarchy of the late sixties and early seventies. But by 1973 the colours were fading. We hadn’t managed to radically transform society and the counterculture was slowly crumbling under the pressure of repressive authoritarianism, crass commercialism and corporate greed. The house of love and peace was being demolished. Barbiturates and smack were as easy to score as acid and dope. The tripped out were becoming the strung out and the casualties were on the increase. We hungered for new horizons.
In underground publications such as International Times, Oz and Frendz we were reading reports of far off, exotic lands where hash was cheap, strong and readily available and where one could exist on as little as a pound a day. On the classifieds pages were ads for overland buses that would take you all the way from Europe to Nepal in just four weeks. The overland route was becoming an increasingly popular rite of passage amongst disillusioned western freaks and was dubbed ‘The Hippie Trail’ by the tabloids.
At that time there were no Rough Guides or Lonely Planet books. Once you left Europe you were outside the tourist zone. It was the dawn of the package holiday era but destinations like Iran and Afghanistan were not on your average tourists itinerary. Information was passed on by hippie bums and dope-smoking vagabonds and some of this was collected by a freak-run organisation called BIT that worked out of a tiny, paper-strewn office in Notting Hill. This was made available in a wad of A4, typed and xeroxed sheets, roughly stapled together. It contained reports of good and bad hotels, places to eat, rip-offs, best places to change money on the black-market, border-crossing hassles etc. It was the closest thing to an overlander's travel guide that there was at the time. But it was also a document that gradually self destructed with use and I doubt if many copies remain these days.
For me the true overland bible was a book written ten years earlier in 1963 by a fearless, young Irish woman from County Waterford entitled, ‘Full Tilt – Ireland to India with a Bicycle’. Dervla Murphy had laid out the route we would follow, not, as she did, on two wheels, or even on one of the freak buses, but using local public transport. That way we hoped to have closer contact with the people and cultures of the different countries. Our plan was to get through expensive Europe in as short a time as possible and get down to the serious traveling when we hit Turkey.
At a distance of around 4000 miles from Europe to the Indian Subcontinent, this was the furthest we could travel without taking to the air or the sea. Flights were prohibitively expensive and we were aiming to travel the longest distance for the least cost. And money was easy to acquire in the early seventies. There were plenty of jobs. One season of sweaty kitchen work at Mad Fred and Crazy Maisie’s ‘Meyrick Cliffs Hotel’, on Shanklin Esplanade, gave Janette and I enough money to migrate for the winter, or at least for the worst of it. Between us we managed to scrape together £500 and planned to travel for as long as we could eke it out.
The recollections here are taken from dog-eared diaries that we somehow managed to write and which, amazingly, are still pretty much intact after all these years. The photographs were taken on a plastic Kodak Instamatic camera and the rolls of film periodically posted back to Janette's parents for developing. Some pictures have disappeared and some have deteriorated with time. Now, in the 21st Century and middle-aged, I wish we had taken more, but at the time it was all about living for the moment, not capturing something for the future.

To read the whole twisted tale with accompanying photographs, click HERE