Thanks to Rory Maclean the bus still runs, and I was able to catch it a generation and a half after the departure of the original Intrepids to the once-wild East. That East that was the world of dreams for a tired Europe whose kids desparately needed vision and freshness, for whom there was nothing at home that could hold the imagination, and whose parents' lives had been consumed and formed in the horror of war, the collapse of empire, incredible technological changes and the struggle to hang onto something familiar.
Rory Maclean balances the sentiment of the original journeys, thousands of them, gained by a brave attempt to trace their route under very changed, and more dangerous circumstances than they once were, with an updated perspective on the trail as it appears today. Those early travellers were gullible, naive and inexperienced. They were also passionate and committed to a new world of real relations - and of pleasure.
It may be that the passage of those early hippies laid something of the foundations for the present tensions and unhealthy religious and political conditions. Yet this too will pass. Maclean's account, meanwhile, consists in the main of encounters along the way with a brilliant Afghan rug of characters, from the ancient hippie soulmate he meets in Turkey to the Iranian city guide who opens his mind behind closed doors, the Englishman who converted to Islam in Pakistan and created for himself a spiritual path from the land and the people and the ecstasy of the meeting. Old hippies, musicians, their admirers along the way, NGO employees who wished they had been part of it... they are all here. And in each case there is a true encounter, a meeting of minds - surely the purpose of all travel, then and now and henceforth.
For anybody who did not travel on the first trail, this is a superb synthesis of many strands that gives a good picture of how it was. For anybody who has visions of a closer world and a new paradigm for living, this account shows much of what was achieved before, and some of the mistakes, and inspires one to try again. For those who did travel the Trail, I doubt that they will have much to argue with Maclean about.