Wednesday, October 04, 2006

INTRODUCTION


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








7 comments:

  1. Hey just realised that I can comment on yours too!! Bloody marvalous this technology thing

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  2. i took a cheaper alternative....i.e. budget bus from tottenham court road to delhi for £45......spent 3 months went to colva beach, goa, got hep, came home got married, had kids......but the journey stays with me.....live the dream.........

    check out,//abeattie23.blogspot.com

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  3. Hi Tony G,

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  4. Hi Tony,
    I am a P/T Lecturer and PhD student at the University of Brighton, United Kingdom as well as intermittent nomad. I am writing an article and a paper about early counterpublic/ countercultural books/ezines/ catalogs that inspired foreign travel in the mid 60s' and early 70s. I will be contrasting the stories of individuals who engaged with such literature with more current web based counterpublics such as couchsurfing.com / bewelcome.org

    The media I am looking at include:
    BIT Travel Centre - Overland Guide to India / International Times / Oz and Frendz / Whole World Caralog Supplement / On the Road / Full Tilt – Ireland to India with a Bicycle - Dervla Murphy / Rat / Village Voice

    I am making Skype telephone calls to individuals who engaged with this literature and which ultimately helped inspire them to travel abroad. I found this blog via a World Hum comment.

    It would be great if I could get 15-30 minutes of your time to ask you about the impact of this literature on your travels and life in general.

    Regards
    Michael
    mjo2 (at) bton.ac.uk

    Ph.D. Candidate
    School of Service Management
    University of Brighton
    49 Darley Road
    Eastbourne, East Sussex
    BN20 7UR


    University: www.brighton.ac.uk
    Personal: www.irish-guy.com
    Personal: www.nomadx.org
    Telephone: +44 (0)1273-643679

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  5. I honestly love this website. Your posts help to remind me why I love traveling on vacation soo much. You seem to really love your site. Aside from my medical practice, I love keeping up with the latest travel tips online. Keep up the great work and please visit by my health blog sometime. I would appreciate it. The url is http://healthy-nutrition-facts.blogspot.com

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  6. Hi Tony
    I've just come across your blog and am really enjoying reading it. I did a similar trip in 1976 with Asian Greyhound (what you would call one of the freak buses!) I was only 18. I've just recently started blogging my diary and photos too, and am trying to track down passengers from my trip, so perhaps you could help put the word out?! Info is at: http://janmacleodtrotter.blogspot.com
    Cheers
    Jan

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  7. Hi Tony,
    I wish I had kept a more detailed diary of my journey from Limerick Irl. to Goa India with a side trip to the Swat valley Pakistan for a week. Dropped out of art school went to Heidelberg to work for a couple of months at a U.S. army base to make enough money for the trip. After a few weeks on the Greek islands of Ios and Crete travelled with my gal pal by public transportation from Athens after hitch hiking there (May to dec.1973.)must have crossed paths at the "Behzad'' or "Super Behzad' in Herat. What an experience. Spent the night with a family in their home having henna applied to our long hair by the women who took off the burkas in the house. I too was inspired by Dervilla Murphy.
    Never had anything stolen . We were super careful being 2 young red headed irish girls. Took a ride with some Italians in their V.W. bus over the Kyber Pass. Returned from Swat to Lahore in one of those colourful crazy old bus/truck. We are lucky to survive the ordeal at night.
    Met my husband near Delphi Greece as he hitched a ride on ''Ed's magic bus'' heading to Istanbul.
    We have been together since .Have 3 grown sons and 3 grandkids. Living in Los Angeles.
    Angelo worked in film bizz and now teaches.
    love to read the stories of fellow travelers.
    Those were the days.!!
    Regards,
    Agnes
    agnesmp@ca.rr.com

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