Friday, February 4, 2011

Hippie, Hippie Shake

I think I was a hippie in a previous life.  I think I would’ve enjoyed myself immensely had I been alive during the 1960’s (well, alive and old enough to actually BE a hippie, since technically I was alive for about 10 months of the ‘60’s).  I probably would’ve done far too many drugs, though, so I might not have enough brain cells left to be sitting here writing now.  I’d have been the female Keith Richards and be barely coherent today.  But, oh, I’d have had some fun ...

As it is, I have to live vicariously through other people’s account, and retrace their steps when I can.  I read a couple of fascinating books before I left for India — The Magic Bus, by Rory MacLean, where he retraces the Trail and encounters a few of the original travellers along the way, and Goa Freaks, by Cleo Odzer, her firsthand account of life on the beach in Goa in the 1960’s — and I was all fired up to go see it for myself.  I really, really wanted to follow the old Hippie Trail this year — the 1960’s/70’s travellers’ route from Istanbul through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to Goa or Kathmandu — but reluctantly gave it up as too dangerous.  (Obviously, I was always going to skip Afghanistan.  But on closer inspection I decided that Iran and Pakistan weren’t good bets, either.)

The colourful main street of Pushkar
 So I take pieces of the experience where I can.  I got a good dose of hippie-dom in Pushkar, my fourth stop after Delhi, Agra and Jaipur on my whirlwind tour of North India.  I LOVED it.  Seriously.  It was the first place I’d been in India where I could walk down the street without insanely aggressively souvenir hawkers or rickshaw drivers trying to coerce money out of me; oh, they still try to sell you things in Pushkar (mostly tie-dye and other hippie paraphernalia) but it’s a lot more laidback, and no one much cares if you just keep on walking.  They don’t chase you down the street for a block or two as they do in Agra or Jaipur.

I think I could’ve happily stayed there for weeks.  (I might have to go back and do just that, before I head home back to real life and work.)  I think there are people who do, and for much more than a few weeks in some cases:  I’m pretty sure, looking at some of the foreigners wandering the streets, that there are people there who came in the ‘60’s and just never bothered to leave again.

It’s a sacred place for Hindus, who come to make offerings to the holy lake and to receive a blessing at one of the many temples around.  I might not agree with them that the lake is holy, but the place does have a very special kind of vibe — I could just feel myself relaxing and becoming happier and more chilled-out as I walked the streets.   I felt healthier and more energized as I ate at a few of the many organic, whole-food, vegetarian cafes in town.  I think I slept better than I ever have.

Of course, the sleeping well might’ve had something to do with all the rum I consumed.  We went out one night on a camel safari out of town, to watch the sun set over the sand, consume a tasty local meal and watch some local dance performed.  My camel was a bit cranky and obstreperous (and very large — you’re a long way off the ground on the back of a camel), but he got me there in the end with only a few attempts to pick fights with the other camels. 

Binu, our group leader, brought along a bottle of Indian rum to top up all our glasses — alcohol is illegal in Pushkar within a certain distance of the sacred lake (although souvenir shopowners will try to entice you in by offering cold beer), but we were far enough out of town that it wasn’t a problem.  Getting back ON the camel after several glasses of rum, though, was a bit more challenging; I shared a camel on the way home with an English backpacker and we kept each other from sliding off.  (I don’t know if the camel appreciated our renditions of Joni Mitchell along the way, though.)

Okay, I suppose that drinking rum in the desert isn’t particularly a hippie experience, but it was fun.  The authentic hippie part came later, as a few of us headed up to the hotel’s roof terrace, cranked up the music (on someone’s iPod) and lit up a joint that our resident crazy Italian guy had bought in town.  I remember thinking after one puff (that rendered me pretty much out of my tree) that “wow, this is really strong marijuana”, but in best Indian hippie fashion, it wasn’t. (I’d smoked hash without knowing it.  There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.) 

Later in the trip I’ll get to Goa, where hippie-dom still rules.  Perhaps I’ll forget to come home, too, and still be there, 30 years from now, a 70-year-old woman wearing tie-dye and long peasant skirts, bumming a drink or a smoke off the young backpackers wandering through.  Hmmm .... there might be worse ways to live.

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