Starting in the mid 1960s, hundreds of thousands of young people from the West started heading for Asia, from Ibiza to Morocco, from Istanbul to India overland, crossing Afghanistan. Unthinkable today: the Afghan capital Kabul once was a paradise for hippies. LOST PARADISE: THE KABUL OF THE HIPPIES “This is exactly what we saw. Such a bus we saw. It belonged to Germans. They had done all the way to Afghanistan with this bus, and on its roof they had furniture and Kilim carpets. And when they came back to their flats in Stuttgart, Hamburg or Berlin, their flats were full of all the things they had bought on their way. Yes, perfect bus. I love it.” “That was really the hippie times. With such a VW bus, I returned from Kabul to Istanbul. We were a gang of youngsters, and we sat in this bus packed like sardines. Crazy. It was totally packed. We were totally broke. We spent our last cent on fuel, not on food anymore.” “Also we also travelled from Kandahar to Kabul with such a bus. I like this one a lot, but we didn´t have that much colourful stuff at the outside. Because if you really have a bus like that, you don´t want to be stopped at the border for custom controls. With such a VW bus, with all the colours and all the stuff like this, then it would be a little bit too conspicuous, you know.” For many young dropouts on their way to India and Nepal, Crossing Afghanistan with the VW bus was their dream of adventure. From 1968 until the military coup in 1978 the country in the Hindu Kush region was considered to be one of the most fascinating travel destinations. Beautiful landscape, unspoilt nature, hospitable nomad people, and the best hashish in the world made Afghanistan a hippie paradise. “Maureen and I went to Afghanistan in 1972 for the first time. It was at the peak of the hippie trail. It was a real mass movement. We started out with our old car travelling through Europe, from Istanbul into Iran and then to Afghanistan. It was incredibly exotic for us, a different world.” Today, Tony Wheeler and his wife Maureen are among the world´s most successful travel guide publishers. Everything started at the end of the 1960s, when the two students started their journey to India in London. As multimillionaires, today they´d be able to comfortably travel around the world in a limousine, However just like 40 years ago the couple keeps conquering far away countries as plain backpackers. Way back, they had the idea of writing down their globetrotter´s experiences. From this idea, the iconic bible of all backpackers developed: The ´Lonely Planet´ guide book. Tony Wheeler still remembers his first journey exactly, leading through Turkey towards Asia. “In those days, in Istanbul there wasn´t any bridge over the Bosphorus yet. You had to take the ferry, giving you a feeling of travelling from one continent to the other.” Istanbul was the first dream destination on the way to Asia. Here in Turkey, hippies arriving from all regions came together radially to organise their onward journey via Iran to Afghanistan and India. The legendary ´Pudding Shop´ was their most important meeting point. “The Pudding Shop was one of these meeting points we called bottle necks. Everyone passed here one day. On the way to Asia, there were half a dozen of these points where everyone hang out. You saw them in the Pudding Shop, and half a year later you saw them again at Sigi´s Restaurant in Kabul.” The ´Pudding Shop´ was an important information point and travel office on the hippie trail. Here, tickets were sold and appointments fixed. The Colpan brothers, the shop owners, had a heart for the hippies, and a solution for each problem. “Once, a desperate young man came to me who had tried to get the bus to India at the last minute, but all seats were already full. He was buggered. So I offered him an armchair with which he could sit down at the bus roof. Four months later on his way back, he brought it back to us. He literally travelled with it through all of India.” Until today, the ´Pudding Shop´ is a sort of pilgrimage site for all veterans of the hippie trail. The ageing flower children from all over the world stop by to walk down memory lane together. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton also visited once, and a famous German politician from the green party. “One of the guests I vividly remember is Joschka Fischer. He was a big fan of our shop at that time. Some time ago, he visited Turkey as German foreign minister, and truely passed by to greet me through the window.” Situated only a few metres away from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the centre of Istanbul, the area in front of the ´Pudding Shop´ became a central station for hippie busses. From there they travelled on to the Iranian border. Until a few years ago, French beekeeper Marc Jeanjean commuted between Paris and Kabul to support the Afghans in redeveloping their agriculture. He knows Kabul since his young days in the 1970s, and still can remember how he started for the first time from the ´Pudding Shop´ to Afghanistan with the bus. “When we were near the Iranian border, the Turkish drivers told us: ´Careful now, we´ll be at the border soon. Drugs, opium or cannabis you must throw away now. We don´t want to have trouble.´ Everyone smoked gigantic joints to enjoy the supplies until their last second, and then everyone threw their dope out of the windows. At the Persian border, the custom officers got into the bus. They had big screwdrivers with them. No-one made a sound. That was actually pretty scary. And then they picked somebody randomly to search him or her, or they disassembled a bus seat. They also ransacked the luggage, and it took hours until we were allowed to travel on. One can´t imagine how relieved we were then. At the border there was a museum that was supposed to warn about drug smuggling. In a showcase, all the objects were presented in which dope had been attempted to smuggle, for example a camping bottle, or I remember panties with a sort of double bottom…” -“It seemed like as you were going east, the more adventurous the stories you heard about Afghanistan became. The nearer you got to the border, the more you relaxed. It wasn´t as dangerous as you thought before. But still there was this feeling that you were going somewhere very different.” -“At those times, Iran and Afghanistan were poles apart. When we arrived at the Afghan border, we could see the border soldiers walking around in ragged clothes, full of holes. Very gross. There were absolutely no street lights. I still remember arriving at night in Herat, and there was absolutely no light.” “For me there was nothing else. Once I had left school there was no other goal than to go on my way east. That was the only opportunity. That´s what I was dreaming about: The East. Asia. For us, that was our spiritual Mecca in the east, which we were going out in search off. And it strikes me a lot nowadays when the West comes to Afghanistan and thinks it can give something, and thinks it has a lot to teach to the people, in the form of aid organisations or the U.N. or donors. That is a one-way travel: We give Afghanistan everything. With us, it was exactly the opposite: We wanted to get everything from the East. John and his friends from Chicago had motorcycles in Matala, but by the time they came to Afghanistan, they swapped the bikes for horses. I rode such a horse from Banyan to Banyamer and drove his motorcycle on Matala in Crete. Both were very difficult to control, because an Afghan horse is just as unpredictable as a Triumph 650. You couldn´t control it, it controls you. And so I don´t know how I didn´t die down there.” Briton John Butt was so enthusiastic about Afghanistan that he stayed there, and converted to Islam. From Kabul, the BBC journalist produced his own radio programme for decades. “I´m actually still living at the same place as 37 years before, and keep doing the same things. I keep learning each day, still talking to many different people. I do radio programmes that are being broadcast on an independent channel in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Actually until today I feel I´m still on the same trail, you know, actually. That´s a Pashtu song. They´re simulating. Do you remember the hippies?” – “Sure! That was a great time for Afghanistan!” “So this is the extension of Chicken Street. It was the most famous street with the hippies.” At the beginning of the 1970s, Kabul was one of the most thriving and modern cities in Asia. Colourful clothes and famous Kilim carpets that were sold in Chicken Street became world-wide fashion due to the hippies. Young people from Europe and America flocked into Afghanistan. “The sidewalks were so full of travellers, that you couldn´t tell if you were in Europe or in Kabul. It was very crowded. If you met someone you hadn´t seen since Morocco, you didn´t say: Oh it´s so amazing to see you here… – It was: Oh hi… You know? It was just normal, you know, because there was just one trail for the hippies. It was a very free atmosphere in those days, incredibly peaceful. Everybody was laughing, and truely it was the manifestation of the ´summer of love´, you know?” Gisela came from Germany and had been in Morocco on the hippie trail before, and then in Afghanistan. “Beautiful here, the blue sky, the sunshine, the mountains… It´s incredibly beautiful to me.” -“Better than in Morocco?” – “Oh definitely better. I don´t feel as harassed as in Morocco.” -“Harassed?” – “Yes. I guess for Europeans it´s a bit difficult to live together with Mohammedans.” -“But here they are Mohammedans as well.” – “Yes they are, but they´re all incredibly stoned!” Hashish was everywhere. Due to the youngsters from the West, one hippie hotspot after the other emerged in Kabul. At Sigi´s the German, one would meet for schnitzels and beer, and later one would hang out at the Green Hotel. “We used to sit in the Green Hotel a lot. There was a lot of trade. Since I was mostly totally broke, I sold an old tape recorder that I got in Kandahar, in order to get money, and that gave me enough money to go to Pakistan and live for 3 or 4 months.” But not all hippies meant well with their meeting point. Two boisterous regular hotel guests on an acid trip, legend says, set the whole Green Hotel on fire one day. Only a ruin was left over. In Chicken Street, John meets an Afghan friend from hippie times. Aziz Amin still remembers well where the Green Hotel once stood, and brings us there. “As you can see here, it´s a ruin, a part of the former Green Hotel. In those days, tourists and Afghan locals organised festivities here, very nice festivities, and parties. It was one of the most important locations for tourists in Kabul. Now when I see how it looks today, it´s somehow sad.” He also remembers vividly the golden tourist years. Only a supermarket for foreigners remained of his hotel and camping place empire in Kabul. “My name is Karimi, I am the owner of the Karimi supermarket shop on Flower Street, Kabul, Afghanistan.” Karimi who later ran hotels in Bamiyan and Herat, shows us the place where his ascent to tourist heaven once had started. “We had contracts with all top bus companies. They came from all over Europe and stayed overnight at my place because it was so cheap. The whole area here was made for camping at that time, a big camping, for women and men, there was no difference. Everything was very safe and peaceful. It was new to us when the hippies arrived here with their long hair and their unkempt appearance, but we didn´t laugh about them, instead we asked them why they ran around like this. They wanted to be free from constraints and were fed of modern and fast life in Europe. And we understood this. We also helped them when they had financial problems. I used to run a small guesthouse over there, they could live in it for free. I also gave them food and drink. They were very interested in us and in our culture.” “I remember when we arrived in Herat, the first thing we did is going to the tailor, to get these typical male dresses, these long jackets, tight at the sides… quite fashionable. When we got back to the hotel we met a German, who was on his way to a restaurant in his new dress, and we saw how the Afghans all started laughing. And we thought: What´s so funny about it? His suit looks fine. But they said his suit was red! Red was totally the wrong colour. No man here would ever wear this colour, they said. From their sight, it was interesting, but also for us. Tourists or hippies would go to places, they were interested, but at the same time without knowing they were marvelled at as well. As a tourist, you often do stupid things, and you´re part of the travelling circus.” “The Afghans, I think they really liked us. We got along well with them, and they got along well with us. Once we left Kabul heading for Jallalabad, and at the second evening a truck picked us up, and we were sitting in the truck, and all Afghans who were sitting on the truck bed in the back were singing. I can just remember these people how they were looking at the mountains and singing these songs that really fitted this mountainous environment. I felt that their songs were just the same as the mountains. Their songs were a human manifestation of the mountains.” In the hippie times, Georg Westermayer came to Afghanistan as a Christian missionary. “For many foreigners, for the hippies as well, Afghanistan was fascinating. Bamiyan was one of these fascinating sites, and also Band-e Amir with its 6 or 7 lakes, situated one next to the other, in a unique rock landscape. The hippies arrived here in flocks. And I saw these hippies, they just sat down in this landscape, smoking their hashish and enjoying life. It was beautiful. On the road there was our leprosy hospital, and as soon as a few German hippies had discovered it, they told to the next hippies in Bamiyan: Guys, we´ve discovered a German hospital, in the middle of the mountain desert, you absolutely have to visit it. So we became this jewel you find after a long desert trip, and so they visited us day by day, on the way back other hippies visited us, and we were also delighted, because we were living in a mountain world where foreigners almost never passed by.” With his music, British musician Donavan embodied the 1960s vibes of life. “Grace Slick [singer] from Jefferson Airplane once said: Those who can remember the 60s haven´t been there!” -“Why?” – “It was a party. I guess she meant everybody was so stoned. How could they remember?” In the western world, hippies were searching for psychedelic drugs, for spiritual enlightenment, for freedom and for free love. “Like every youth movement, it was important to be different. Only luckily we were the ones who had the chance to begin something completely new. The entire sexual revolution, or the democratic movements were not existent yet, so it was possible to explore a new field which nowadays is almost gone. There are no taboos anymore today. We were still able to break taboos. Who wants to break taboos today? There are no taboos anymore.” -“Which taboos did you break?” -“All that existed!” – “At those times, we could afford not going to work. Today, young people want to have a job. For them, it´s terrible to be jobless. We wanted to be jobless. We said: Do your crap alone! We don´t care. We don´t care if you want to have another car, another fridge, another TV – not us. Keep your shit for yourselves.” “We´re all on a spiritual journey, it´s not just the ones who made it to Kabul. But the ones who made it to Kabul showed us what a spiritual journey is all about: to go without money is the fool. In the Tarot cards, it´s the fool who has a stick on his back carrying a bag with his clothes inside. He has a smile on his face, and there´s a little dog following him. But he´s walking off the mountain, stepping off the mountain, looking at the sky. So the Tarot card is called ´the fool´. And that is blind belief, and that is youth. And that is belief in something beyond yourself.” -“We came from Iran to Afghanistan. Then [Afghan] people were standing at the side of the streets, like ice cream sellers in our countries, they were standing there and saying: Hashish! Hashish! I found it unbelievable. Our first stop was Herat, and I went to a shop. To welcome me, the shop owner gave me a joint. Then he gave me such a big plastic bag full of shoe soles made of hash, and asked me if I wanted to put them into my sandals; then it would be easy to smuggle them. And I said: For heaven´s sake! I didn´t dare at all. Such a bag, all hash, in the form of soles.” -“It was madness. You arrived, and… I mean, Iran was still rather western. Then you crossed the border to Afghanistan, then it was like on a camel market. In front of the custom officers´ eyes, they offered you half kilo packs or 1 kilo packs of hashish, putting it at the car window, practically shading the car. People were sitting there with fireplaces… It was a picture like out of… a fairytale. I still remember driving into Herat from the border, and we were gobsmacked. We couldn´t believe where we had landed. It surpassed all expectations. We were in the holy land, so-to-say.” Authorities were surprised how benevolently the hippies were received in Afghanistan. “One should think that Afghans were fed up with these tourists. But there were no clear limits. You couldn´t say: Every person with long hair, because suddenly they all arrived with short hair, because otherwise they wouldn´t have been able to enter Iran. I can not imagine a repeating of the hippie trail from the year 1996 onward. Fundamentalism grew so much stronger, in Afghanistan as well, that the hippies would be immediately chased off the streets as satanic. There would be enough people who would do it.” Today, a trip like the one of the hippies would be completely impossible. In the 1970s, not only flower children went to Afghanistan, but also a leftist terrorist from Berlin who wanted to escape his detention in Germany. “The hippie trek was not my thing actually. At that time, people from the Berlin [radical leftist] scene had already gone to Afghanistan and India, and I talked to them sometimes [in Berlin], but it was never my intention to travel there. After the detention of [the terrorist] Andreas Baader in summer 1971, all manhunt focussed on the ´2nd June movement´. The entire state apparatus had come into motion and we were the only ones left to catch, and we were sitting here in Berlin, which means on an island, so it got narrow. House searches started everywhere, so it was rather tense. One evening by accident, we met some people who had already been down there [in Asia], and they said: Why don´t you drive down there, you still got some money from your bank robberies, and if you want to continue your trip down there, you can get weapons there, it´s almost no-where-land there, at the Khyber pass, and nobody will disturb you. If you really want to continue your madness, you can run your own training camps there. We had Traveller cheques and cash, thousands of dollars. It was totally crazy.” – “From where did you have so much money?” -“Well, from the bank robberies! We had money. The ´2nd June movement´ was one of the most successful bank robbery gangs in German history. We had millions. Money played no role at that time. If you don´t have money, it also doesn´t play any role. Actually money never plays a role! It´s nonsense what people are doing, always running after money. That´s nonsense. In Afghanistan, no-one had money. They were happy nevertheless. You arrived in a country where people were all happy actually despite being poor all of them. It was a bitterly poor country, but with very happy people actually. Next morning we crossed the border, and we had visa papers [for Afghanistan] with us [accompanying our passports], our photos were in them, you had to pay them in a very complicated way, with the exact amount of coins, and compared to the conditions [in Afghanistan], it was a gigantic bureaucratic hassle to get these small papers, and the first person who came to us [at the border] just crumpled them up and threw them into the desert sand, laughing, and we thought: Well..? And then they smashed a stamp into our passports, with a date according to Islamic calendar, it was the year 1300 something… In fact, it corresponded to the real date. These dates were completely realistic dates given [matching with the state of development that Afghanistan was in]. Then I asked the people: Can I change money here?, and then I went into a bank, the man was sitting there and told me: Do you see the safe over there? – I said: Yes. – He said: For years already I don´t have any key for it anymore. Why don´t you go to the black market, you will get more anyway. What do you want in a bank, you stupid? Well, all these things… that made me ask myself: What´s going on here? Then we drove by bus, there were two drivers: one pushed the clutch, the other one steered… And after each turn, they nodded to each other, for having made it once again. But they were completely relaxed while driving, while others´ hair would stand on end, and drove in racing speed through the desert. We arrived in Herat at evening, or afternoon. It was a very beautiful city, with golden mosque cupolas and almost no cars, everyone was in horse carts or oxcarts, and the horses were decorated nicely with little bells, and the people were wearing large turbans and long dresses… Alexander the Great built this city. There was music everywhere. Gigantic grapes were sold in the streets… We were sitting there and looking around and just laughing. We said: Well, we won´t drive back for sure. We´re not interested in weapons anymore, we´re interested in nothing of this. It was nonsense what we had done before. It was like a revelation to us: What a stupidity you have done until now! And this revelation simply came from contacting the people, sitting together with them. It was not that someone had came to us and appealed to our conscience. It was simply the effect of this culture… probably because we had expected nothing.” In Afghanistan, Baumann renounced terror. He wrote: ´Friends, throw away the guns´, and requested his former comrades-in-arms of the ´2nd June movement´ and the RAF [´Red Army Fraction´, leftist terror group] to give up armed fighting. “This is the nicest place I´ve been to in my life. Here I can live and do nothing. Simply sitting in the sun, and I feel completely satisfied. As satisfied as someone else who comes from, say, working a job and doing it well. I get the same thing from just sitting over there in that grass and smoking a joint. Here I can make my life without problems, it´s very cheap, I live on half a dollar per day, and that includes my fix.” Heroin, opium, hashish. For many a flower child, hard and soft drugs were the reason to stay in Afghanistan, because they were cheap here and available everywhere. “You say you are poor. What are you living off?” – “Bakshish. From what people give me. Inshallah with the help of Allah, tomorrow I will have money.” -“Do you believe in Allah?” – “I really do. I could become a Muslim maybe, if I was a got person. It´s the only religion I have seen that people truly are practising. You see them at the mosques praying, all together, shoulder to shoulder, you know, that is brothers, shoulder to shoulder, all praying.” The dream of a better society, of a fairer world, of freedom and enlightenment often vanished in clouds of hashish. Gisela from Germany was in Afghanistan together with her little son. “Yes, I smoke hashish. Good hashish.” – “How much?” -“Well, it depends. Some people think it´s a lot, some people think it´s not much.” It depends how you see it.” – “So the boy must be stoned only from breathing?” -“Oh no, that doesn´t matter. He is used to it. Don´t worry, he´s OK. That doesn´t matter! He is stoned anyway. I don´t think it matters to him.” -“You don´t think it matters to him?” – “No. He gets enough fresh air in addition.” “Well, I sleep rather long, because I have trouble falling asleep. At noon, I go eat something, go to the Green Hotel or to Sigi´s or somewhere, walk through town, listen to music, something, somehow you´ll get the day done. I don´t make fixed plans.” -“Isn´t that boring?” – “No, not at all. It´s not exiting of course, but it´s not boring either.” For the Afghans, the drug consumption of many hippies was a good business. They found it strange that hippie girls were consuming drugs as well. “The hippies were not only influenced by India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Let´s talk about the reversed influence now. I may cite a State secretary. The [Afghan] deputy minister of the Foreign ministry once had a talk with one of our German parliament members, and he said: We know the problem with the drug addiction of our men for a long time already. That´s our dervishes. They dance and scream and are out of themselves, in their trance. What is new for us, ´ce qui est nouveau´, he said in French, ´c´est la femme derviche´, that is the female dervish. That is the new element you brought to us.” “Of course, smoking together with friends, with people of the same age, that brings a certain harmony, and, well… more sensitivity.” To some, drugs became their ruin. “Let´s not talk about hashish anymore.” – “No, let´s not talk about it anymore.” -“And let´s not talk about money anymore. Let´s just talk about the joy that Afghanistan brings to you.” “This blond girl with her son, we bought him a coat… He was only stoned all the time from all the hashish smoke he was forced to breathe in. He felt terribly cold in this winter when we were there. There was snow already, it was cold. She was sent for smuggling to Amsterdam, again and again, with, I don´t know what, like 2 kg of ´grey Afghan´ in the diaper. In those days, the diapers didn´t get controlled like today. Today, I wouldn´t dare smuggling in a diaper anymore.” -“And what became of her?” – “When I came back [to Afghanistan] again, I looked out for her, but I couldn´t find her anymore. It was said that she had moved to some place with a Pathan man, that she had disappeared into the harem of a Pathan village.” -“The waterpipe was not… but we smoked an incredible number of joints, I was incredibly stoned… I feel incredibly horny with it.” On her hippie trail, this young woman still reached in India. There she died at the age of 19. At the Kabul cemetery as well, many flower children´s names can be found who had died at a young age. But those who were able to keep away from drugs could build an existence in Kabul. “I think, those who had just a little bit of aptness could really make wonderful business in Kabul. You could work well with the Afghans, and there was so much material available, for example wonderful antiquities. I didn’t produce on order, but whatever I found beautiful, and that were hippie dresses. And at that time, the hippie fashion boomed, and business went very well. I really produced dresses in masses. I also sent them to Munich. They were also shown in magazines, tagged as ´Dirndl International´.” Heidrun Niemann started at that time and trades in Oriental art until today in Munich. “Getting to know Afghans was impossible for us, right? It was impossible, it didn´t work at all. There was no way. I once asked these table tennis colleagues I had there, with an elderly sports teacher among them, What do I have to do if I wanted to settle down in Afghanistan? Then he said: Going to work and cutting your hair! And then I thought: Exactly what people say in my country! There is no difference at all.” From one night to the next, the hippie dream was over. Communists staged a coup against the president. More than three decades of war and civil war left a wake of devastation, and lay the beautiful country in ashes. “I remember very well landing at Kabul airport a few years ago. At both sides of the landing strip, piles of discarded metal from war were towering. It looked as if people had shovelled away all the destroyed tanks and war vehicles with bulldozers. They were the obvious results of a war, ruins everywhere and bombed streets. That is very impressive for someone who has never seen anything like this before. That was really horrible.” “Personally, that moved me deeply, this war… One really starts feeling lucky. It relativises many of the things that one normally experiences. At that time, we were able to afford our trip to India and all that, because we came from a rich society. Who in our generation was aware how lucky we were not to experience any war? You only became aware of it when you saw these traces of war everywhere.” Today, the risk of falling victim to a kidnapping, an attack or a bomb raid in Afghanistan is high. Tony Wheeler looks back in melancholy to his first trip to Kabul. “I think, the first travel experience influences you for all your life. You´re mostly at the beginning of your 20s, and you´re seeing things for the first time. There´s a magic to it that you´ll never be able to repeat. You´ll never be quite as happy as at the first time again. It´s like first love.” So much more if it was a trip to Kabul in the times of the hippies.