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.

| September/October 2012

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.

Gerald Estes III
10/11/2012 9:55:11 PM

wow archive photos. read only the first and last pages - and came up with a 'hippie' themed thought about the writing of a book such as 'a tree grows in brookland' or perhaps a military journal entry along the lines of 'rommel's last stand'... doesnt matter - for all the world it appears a journey worth taking. fantastic scenery with incredible contrast - not much of anything there except a couple brave souls, a beemer or two and open range. thanks.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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