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Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India Paperback – January 1, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Travel writer MacLean (Stalin's Nose, Falling for Icarus) retraces the infamous hippie trail trod by fun seekers, drug seekers and seekers of fulfillment and enlightenment in the 1960s and '70s, when Afghanistan was unknown except maybe to readers of Kipling, the Shah ruled Iran and the Khyber Pass was, well, passable. Dubbing these travelers "The Intrepids", MacLean tracks the history of the trail. Starting out in Istanbul, MacLean meets Penny, one of the original travelers, who, pushing seventy, is still floating about the east in beads and feathers, spewing memories of her sex life and speaking of karma. MacLean does a fine job finding journalists and local people who remember the hippies and their impact on both the economy and the sensibility of the places they passed through. His sometimes romantic vision of the seekers aside, MacLean makes a sincere effort to understand why the trip was so seductive and important historically. Interactions with people along the way and his references to the music of the trail are delightful, and while the writing can seem overly sentimental in the early pages, MacLean hits his stride quickly; making his way through dangerous and hostile Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan brings out his finest writing. Travelers of all kinds, including the armchair variety, will relish the work and love MacLean has put into his latest.
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Review

Utterly absorbing; if you read only one travel book this year, this should be it -- Alexander Frater, author of Chasing the Monsoon A disturbing, gripping and intensely passionate story Esther Freud Rory MacLean is one of the most strikingly original and talented travel writers of his generation -- Katie Hickman, author of Courtesans --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Ig Publishing; 1 edition (January 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0978843193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0978843199
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,406,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. bailey on July 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Asia's overland route

Hit the road, Jack

Jul 20th 2006

The Economist

IN THE 1960s, thousands of free-spirits set forth on the world's wildest trail, stretching 6,000 miles across six countries and three religions. The Asian odyssey began in Turkey and, barring mechanical (or mental) breakdown, took in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan before ending up in the revered destinations of India and Nepal.

Rory MacLean retraces the steps of these "intrepids" to find out why the hippie trail became the journey of the age. The original flower children, he explains, wanted to swap the conformism of the 1950s for spiritual enlightenment. Inspired by the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and the social revolutions of the time, they flocked east aboard a patchouli-scented convoy of psychedelic buses, Bedford trucks and VW campervans.

Thousands took to the road, fuelled by dope and the dream of nirvana. In 1968, the year the Beatles were meditating with the Maharishi in Rishikesh, there were 10,000 young foreigners in India. Five years later, that number were crossing the border from Pakistan each week. By the mid-1970s, Afghanistan, an easygoing paradise, welcomed 90,000 visitors a year.

Mr MacLean is an entertaining guide, conjuring the flavour of the trail: the Pudding Shop in Istanbul catering for the travellers' "sugar-craving munchies"; the rose-scented, bug-infested Crown hotel in Delhi; pipes of Mustang at the Eden Hash Centre in Kathmandu; embroidered jeans, ankle bells, karma, peace and love.

Yet "Magic Bus" is more than a series of travel anecdotes; it raises questions about how the hippies influenced the places they visited.
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Format: Paperback
As someone who travels as lifestyle, I'm enchanted by stories of the overland journey from Turkey to Kathmandu which hundreds of thousands of young Europeans and Americans embarked upon in the 1960s and 1970s. For such an amazing scene, there are remarkably few books about it. I picked up Rory Maclean's MAGIC BUS hoping to learn more about those halcyon days of hippies and seekers. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment.

Maclean traveled over the trail himself after Afghanistan was opened again thanks to the NATO-led overthrow of the Taliban. He claims that his goal in undertaking the journey and writing this book is to show how the hippie trail has changed from what youngsters saw 40 years ago. It doesn't really live up to this. While Macclean does dedicate some space to the trail, he doesn't really give much detail about it besides the general outline that social radicals went along it. I am sure that I am not alone in reading Macclean's book to get a better glimpse of the 1960s and 1970s scene, what it consisted of and what happened to all those myriad elements. MAGIC BUS fails here.

Much of Macclean's reporting about the current state of trail concerns only the general state of the countries involved, not about many of the specific locations connected to the hippies. And his writing about the current state is uninspired and little more than the generalities offered by the mass media. For example, he claims that Afghanistan sees no independent travel and everyone is staying away, but in the years between the overthrow of the Taliban and the publication of his book, the Russian hitchhiking club Academy of Free Travel carried out two expeditions in Afghanistan.
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There were good points and bad points. On the positive side, it is an interesting read. It does cover many of the things that we have all heard about but just have not taken the time to look into further.

I will come to Mr. MacLean's defence for the criticism that it really does not delve much into the incidents and life of the trekkers of old. Upon reading the book, he seems to intentionally focus on the present. It is as though the intrepids of the 60s and 70s were merely ghosts which haunt these areas. I admit that the cover and marketing of the book is misleading in this regard, but these are shortcomings of the marketing department and not the author.

However there were many things that I did not care for in the book. Typical commercial style is to start each chapter with a "hook". The purpose of which is to grab people's attention when they are browsing a bookstore. This is derived from the universal tendency of shoppers to start reading from the beginning of a chapter, usually the first chapter. However for some reason, Mr. MacLean chose to start each chapter with a few paragraphs of purple prose. This prose was so awkward and impenetrable that I frequently had to read it two to three times just to figure out what he was trying to say. I am sorry to say that this does not sound like an effective "hook" to me.

The biggest deficiency is in the large number of errors that I encountered. I noticed them mainly in the Indian section. This was because I lived for many years in India during the 1970s. I did not notice them in other sections, because I have never lived there. But if the same rate of errors is extrapolated to the rest of the book, then the accuracy of this work is highly questionable.
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