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Kathmandu’s vanishing hippies

When legendary Bollywood actor Dev Anand visited Kathmandu in May this year, he said the city has transformed, and did not appear pulsating as before. He is right — the Hippy Trail has really gone cold now. Read on...

world Updated: Dec 07, 2008 00:41 IST
Anirban Roy

When legendary Bollywood actor Dev Anand visited Kathmandu in May this year, he said the city has transformed, and did not appear pulsating as before. He is right — the Hippy Trail has really gone cold now.

During 1960s and 1970s, the narrow lanes off the infamous Freak Street in Kathmandu’s Basantapur were been famous across the globe as the abode of the hippies. Dirty clothes, grubby sandals, sleeping on charpoys, and smoking charas were the craze.

Then, the sweet smell of marijuana and hashish drew crowds to widen the communes of the long-haired hippies, which were a mixture of astonishing varieties of cultures and nationalities.

Dev Anand’s association with the hippies happened during his immortal film Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. The film had portrayed Kathmandu as the Mecca of the hippies.

But today, the hippy culture is totally dead in Kathmandu. During the last few decades, hippies stopped visiting the city. Now, tour operators in Kathmandu are used to handling patrician and clean-shaven tourists from the West, who prefer clean hotels and do not smoke grass.

“I came to visit Kathmandu because I heard a lot about this place from the hippies from around the world,” Donald, a long-haired new generation hippy from Berlin said, adding: “I am cheerless, it has been the end of the

civilisation.”

Dressed in dirty clothes, Donald said during his two-week stay in Kathmandu, he did not come across more than three couples from his “blissful civilisation”.

Former tourism minister Sushil Man Sherchan said there was a time when thousand of hippies from across the world had made Kathmandu their home. “There was a time when every third person around Basantapur was a hippie. But now, it is difficult to find them,” Sherchan said.

Over the years, the great hippie civilisation of Kathmandu saw a slow death. The nerve centre of Kathmandu’s tourism has also shifted from Basantapur to Thamel. And, for tourists, Thamel is known as the “heaven for trekkers and not of the hippies”.

People don’t have too many reasons as well to explain the causes of death of the grand hippy civilisation. Some explain that the government’s strict regulations to ban the open use of drugs resulted in the decline of visits of the hippies.

“Why will hippies come if hashish is not easily available?” Kanak Gautam, owner of a trekking company said. The sleuths of Narcotics Drug Control Law Enforcement Unit (NDCLEU) have been regularly carrying out raids in the tourist areas.

Kuber Singh Rana, a senior NDCLEU official said their operations over the years have succeeded in breaking the backbone of the hashish and marijuana networks in downtown Kathmandu. “Our seizure is over 1,000 kg every year,” he said.

Moreover, people in Kathmandu believe that there has also been a big change in western society, and it is no more a fashion for the youths to identify themselves as hippies and grow long hair.