Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Europe to India via Tehran and Kabul: the Lost World of the Hippie Trail
"Ladies, take special notice. Afghanistan is a heavy duty male chauvinist trip, so try to remember what your dear old Grandmother said about acting like a lady"
Hippiedom was dealt a devastating double blow in 1979. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamist revolution in Iran closed off large segments of the so-called Hippie Trail. Bereft of its major route of pilgrimage, the once-dominant counterculture of the West fizzled out, its remnants ridiculed by a new wave of youth rebellions replacing it.
Using older trade routes as a template, the Hippie Trail had been the favoured grand tour for members of the beat and hippie subculture from the 1950s onwards. It consisted of several starting points in Europe (often London, Athens or Istanbul) and a handful of termini in the Indian subcontinent (Goa, Delhi, Kathmandu) or beyond (Bangkok). From Istanbul, a northern route branched out via Tehran, Kabul and Lahore into India, a southern route passed through Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and southern Pakistan.
A network of hostels, cafes and shops frequented by like-minded travellers was essential to keep the trip as cheap and as 'real' as possible. That network was irreparably breached in 1979.
The hippie philosophy that embraces peace, love and an understanding of various types of hallucinogenics hasn't completely gone out of fashion. Nor has its taste for the exotic. But for today's bohemians, it's all about the destination, not the journey. The sensual and the spiritual dimensions of destinations like Goa, Thailand or Bali are just a plane ride away.
What sounds exotic now is that the Hippie Trail, a.k.a. the Overland, once existed at all: given the current state of the world, it's hard to imagine a constant stream of hedonistic twentysomethings hitching rides from London to Kathmandu, scoring dope in Tehran and Kabul, and generally exhibiting lascivious behaviour with the wild abandon that gets you in trouble with the locals faster than you can say 'angry flash mob'.
London to Delhi via Istanbul and Tehran. With time to spare for a short walk in the Hindu Kush. (taken here from The Hippie Trail)
Attitudes have hardened, with permissiveness and tolerance towards alternative lifestyles increasingly rare, in East and West. To quote The Big Lebowski, a film about the frustrations of a group of Sixties holdouts marooned in the Nineties: “Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski! The bums lost!”
Even more of a problem is the fact that at no point since 1979 has the entire trail been safe to travel. Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have all been suffering from varying degrees of violence, from simmering rebellions through civil strife to outright war.
Add to that the deleterious effects of cannabis on memory, and these reasons might explain why, to quote Nick Danforth, “[i]t's proved surprisingly hard to find good maps of the hippie trail, which I'm sure must have existed”. On The Afternoon Map (his excellent cartography blog), he offers a few options, some of which we reproduce here.
His post also quotes from Head East!, a 1973 travel guide covering the Istanbul to Kathmandu part of the Hippie Trail. For insight into the strange lost world travelled by these hippies, below are some quotes from the book (which is partially reproduced in Mr. Danforth's post).
From the foreword:
“People of the East, for the most part, have a much better perspective on life, time, people, drugs and living in general than do those of us who come from the West.”
“You might think that backsheeshing the policeman who finds your dope stash is not going to work. But if you're cool, it does.”
“When you 'split' from this 'civilized' and constrained Western thought which has not taught you to seize the time, to live each moment, to let yourself feel the real world going on around you and despite you, you will surely draw your first real breath of life.”
On travel costs:
“You can live on $2 a day or less throughout the East […] If you have as much as $100 a month, you can afford la grande tour.”
“The cost of living [in Europe] is almost as high as it is in the States, so every day spent in Europe means about five lost in the East.”
“You'll be following in the footprints of Marco Polo on what is now known as the 'pot trail' and whether you like it or not you are going to see a lot of good, cheap dope around. And it's going to get better and cheaper as you travel. Just one word of warning, be cool and careful, especially in Iran and turkey. Here the police are heavy and the jails are terrible. In very country of the East except Nepal and parts of India dope is illegal. But, east of Iran it is so widely used that there is little or no law enforcement by the authorities. So don't be paranoid, just cool!”
On crossing into Turkey:
“Beware of the head customs officer at the Greco/Turkish border. He loves to throw a black rubber snake into the laps of unsuspecting females.”
On finding connections:
“As soon as you get a room [in Istanbul], locate the Pudding Shop. The food is overpriced; it's the bulletin board you want to see, not the menu. On [it] are notices for rides and riders wanted, overland buses, [etc.] Put up a notice if you are looking for a ride East.”
On Turkish food:
“Turkish food is good and cheap. Stuff yourself. The food is going to get progressively worse as you go East – or at least until you reach Kabul.”
“Istanbul is the Turkish version of San Francisco – a wild non-stop mind blowing show. Winding ancient streets, dancing bears, meandering fog, and honking '57 Chevy taxis all conspire to entertain you.”
On hotels in Tabriz:
“A good hotel is right on the main circle – the bus stops in front of it – but the name eludes us. (At least we are honest).”
“The people of Islam, or Moslems, believe that they are the 'chosen people' of Allah (God). In keeping with their tenets and customs, the women are considered the property of their men-folk. This chattel is subject to prearranged marriages and other such non-liberated customs.”
On VW buses:
“The highway [into Teheran] is fairly narrow and with the shoulder a four foot drop and you doing upwards of 90 kms/hr., if you go off for any reason you will surely be injured. V.W. buses beware! Your center of gravity is very high, so carry your load lower and don't make any high-speed sharp turns or swerves.”
On the modernity of Tehran:
“Tehran is a gigantic new city with all the traffic congestion and high-rises of the West. The driving in the city is absolutely absurd. The people of the city are very much into becoming modernized, consequently they are rather standoffisch and at times can be very uptight.”
On homes away from home:
“The manager [of the Amir Kabir hotel in Teheran] is a very cantankerous guy, but he appreciates freaks.”
On crossing into Pakistan:
“In Tai-bad [the first Pakistani town past the border] there is a definite change. Things get even more wild-looking and pushed back in time. This border town is funky.”
On crossing into Afghanistan:
“As you are leaving the border station area [at Islam Qala] the guard will probably try to sell you some hash. Don't get paranoid; he is only trying to make a buck. (However, dope is illegal in Afghanistan). If you can't wait until Herat where the hash will be better and cheaper, buy only enough for a couple of joints and don't pay the guard more than 1/3 of what he asks.”
On buying camels (not the cigarettes):
“Three German guys, thinking it would be a romantic way of travelling, bought four camels, three to ride and one pack camel. The first night they camped, they hobbled the camels, so they wouldn't wander during the night. In the morning the camels were gone. They had dragged themselves 20 miles, through the desert with their legs tied, back to their former Afghani owner. It turned out that it wasn't the first time that these loyal creatures had returned to their master; he must have sold them many times.”
On ladylike behaviour in Afghanistan:
“Ladies, take special notice. Afghanistan is a heavy duty male chauvinist trip, so try to remember what your dear old Grandmother said about acting like a lady. Don't go wandering the back streets at night unescorted. If you are invited to an Afghan home, go only if you are escorted by one or two western males, preferably with one of them claiming he is your husband or brother. […] Above all NEVER call an Afghan a pig no matter how much he might piss you off.”
Why tough hippies are yellow hippies:
“DO NOT DRINK THE WATER in Afghanistan unless it has been chemically purified or boiled. You'll meet some 'tough' hippies who will say that they drink the water everywhere. Six weeks later, in Kathmandu, you'll meet the same hippies frantically swallowing iodide tablets rapidly turning a rich shade of yellow, wondering where and how they got infectious hepatitis.”
Some souvenir-buying advice:
“Small brass water pipes at 15-20 Afs. and bigger hubbly-bubblies are better and cheaper here than in Kabul. Don't buy shirts in Herat. Wait until Kandahar […] the shirt capital of Afghanistan.”
How to collect hashish in Herat:
“Herat features a pancake style hashish. It is hand pressed (often with a little water added), locally grown and unusually grey-green to grey-brown in color. […] A more romantic – but slightly less practical – method for collecting the pollen is to run in a loincloth through the fields and then scrape the pollen from your body and press it, preferably against the warm sweating body of a fellow field nymph or satyr.”
What constitutes exotic cuisine in Kabul:
“There are also several German restaurants in Kabul: Siggi's is the cheapest at 30 Afgs. for a dinner.”
Jean Harlow in the bazaar:
“The Nixon Bazaar (Old Clothes market) with outrageous thirties to fifties Western clothes is in the main bazaar behind the Mosque. Such items as a 1930's flesh-colored Jean Harlow dress are occasionally up for grabs.”
On where to get stoned:
“Things used to be really loose [in Kabul] but 'the times they are a changing'. […] Get stoned, but don't make a public affair of it. The purchasing of large amounts of dope in Kabul is not advisable for two reasons: it's more expensive and there is much more heat.”
Strange Maps #644
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.