The Hippie Highway: Istanbul to Kathmandu on a BMW R75/5
Clement Salvadori remembers his 1973 trip on the Hippie Highway from Istanbul to Kathmandu aboard a BMW R75/5.
The Hippie Highway: Istanbul to Kathmandu by BMW R75/5 in 1973
Photo By Clement Salvadori
In 1973, I was a diplomat working at the American embassy in Italy. The State Department was going to reassign me to Washington, D.C., and although I didn’t like my job, I said I would stay on if I was sent to Afghanistan, which was an interesting place back then.
Sorry, came the reply, no slots open. All right, I decided, I’ll resign and go there myself. I sold my Fiat Spyder 1500, bought a pair of military backpacks to sling over the saddle of my 1972 BMW R75/5, took the ferry to Greece, and made my way to Istanbul — undoubtedly the most romantic city in Europe.
After locating a cheap hotel with safe parking, I left the bike and walked over to the Pudding Shop in Sultan Ahmet Square, a café and restaurant where overland travelers from Asia, Europe and Africa crossed paths, and where one could sit for hours over a tiny cup of Turkish coffee. The Pudding Shop was where you could find up-to-the-moment information about wherever it was you wanted to visit; had the CIA any sense, it would have had a hippily dressed agent there at all times.
What a long strange trip ...
This was the starting point of the Hippie Highway. Nobody knows quite when the expression was first used, but it was in the Sixties when hippiedom flourished in Europe and America. Many of these flower children felt that mystical Asia held the answers to their questions about the meaning of life, whether that involved finding spiritual enlightenment or cheap hashish. Just head east ...
I knew what visas I would need, but what documentation was required for a motorcycle to get to Nepal? Pakistan was the only country that required a carnet (a financial guarantee that you will not illegally sell your vehicle in the host country, and thereby deprive that country of some tax revenue), and that could be obtained in Tehran from the Royal Iranian Automobile Club (RIAC).
Leaving Istanbul, sunny weather had given way to drizzle. The bridge across the Bosphorus strait had not been completed, so the only way to get from Europe to Asia was via a short ferry ride. I clattered up a metal ramp onto a barge and found two English fellows also aboard, with a Triumph TR6 Trophy. We decided to ride together. Soon the drizzle turned to rain. After a couple of hours we came into a small town where police had put up a barricade. Sorry, landslide, road ahead is closed.
It was Ramadan, when Muslims forsake food and drink between dawn and dusk, so no cafés were open. We found a building under construction where we could park under shelter, brew up a cup of tea and ponder our options. We could not go forward, and the road we had just come along was now closed because of another landslide. Stuck. The town was too small to have a hotel, but a local, demonstrating the best of Muslim hospitality, invited us to his home.
Though we spoke no common language we had a delightful evening and a good sleep, and in the sunny morning headed toward the landslide. A footpath had been dug through the landslide’s muck, and the workers waved us through. A passenger train had been stuck in this little town as well, but it would be some time before that got moving.
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