Let Down and Hanging Around on the Hippie Trail

In the 1960s and 70s, American and European hippies flocked to India's Anjuna Beach. A half-century later, what remains of the counterculture bastion?

By / April 2015

Yertward Mazamanian was born to Armenian immigrants outside of Boston in March 1924. He was missing two fingers on his right hand. Eight Finger Eddie, as he came to be called, grew up in a world that he quickly came to detest. A world of punch clocks and labor unions, hard work and honest living. He longed to forge his own path, and exist at a slower pace. Eventually, the call overwhelmed him, and he abandoned good, clean American life forever. Influenced by the Beats, Eddie bounced around Mexico and Europe, but still found stifling conformity wherever he went.

Until he arrived in India. It was 1964. Eddie had driven across the Middle East and Central Asia in a camper. He parked on a pristine and largely deserted beach called Anjuna, in the disputed Portuguese territory of Goa. Nothing more than a sleepy fishing hamlet, Anjuna was the paradise for which Eddie had been searching his entire life. No one hasseled him in any way, it cost almost nothing to survive, and high quality hemp was available by the bushel.

Eight Finger Eddie had inadvertently founded the Indian Hippie Trail. Other hippies heard about the glories of Anjuna and started turning up in droves. Throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s, the hippie population in the tiny village swelled into the hundreds. They lived in colonies in the forest, slept in the shade, smoked pot, practiced yoga, and raged at the moon. Other hippie fathers, like Goa Gil, helped Eddie forge the Anjuna culture, pioneering a new brand of music, called “Trance,” the perfect soundtrack for drug-fueled nights in the colonies.

Photograph by Klaus Nahr

Eddie started a soup kitchen for beleaguered hippies newly arrived to Goa and in 1975, a flea market. Here, departing travelers could peddle their possessions to bright-eyed novices who had just arrived on the trail. They’d hawk everything from clothes and sleeping mats to Enfield motorcycles.

In India as elsewhere, the hippie movement faded in the 80s. Anjuna remained something of a last bastion of the counterculture. But the rise of package tourism and government regulations dealt an almost fatal blow to the hippie community in the early nineties. From that point forward, the hippies moved mostly underground and became difficult to locate, though insiders insist they are still there.

When I climbed out of a spluttering taxi at Anjuna Beach early on a Wednesday morning this spring, I was not even sure I was in the right place. Nothing moved, and all the shops and huts were shut up tight. A long-haired Indian youth, sporting a sky-blue Care Bears t-shirt, was the only other person around. It was 7:15. With my backpack strapped to my shoulders, I was obviously a new arrival, squinting and disoriented in the early morning sun. The young man approached me slowly, grinning and bobbing his head.

“Hello brother,” he said, “You want ganja?”

“No thanks.”

“Mushrooms then? I have good mushrooms.”

I asked him how to get to the main beach, and he pointed toward a long dirt path that wound past several closed-up shops in a palm forest. He sat down serenely on a concrete retaining wall and watched me go.

As I got closer to the shore, I began to detect some signs of life. A few early morning walkers, a farmer headed into a rice paddy with a water buffalo, and a couple of drowsy stirrings at the guest houses and beach huts that stood shoulder to shoulder along the sand. I had scrambled eggs and toast at a little bamboo framed café at the water’s edge.

No hippies in sight. It was early though, and I was certain they were all still asleep in some forest clearing or rotted shack. They would come out later.

Eight Finger Eddie’s flea market has, over the last forty years, evolved into a massive tourist bazaar, which stretches from the edge of the beach clear out into the open fields across the road, and it was beginning to hum.

As I sipped my pineapple juice, stall keepers were busily laying out beads on blankets, and hanging colorful bags from hooks. I paid 160 rupees for my food and began to explore. Historically, this had been where the greatest concentration of hippies had congregated, and I was hoping that there were at least a few still around. However, as I wandered to and fro among the doo-dads and the what-nots, I quickly realized that this was just a larger version of every other tourist market in India. I brushed past the same shawls, knives, jewelry, and Tibetan singing bowl that are hawked from Kashmir to Kovalam.

This was no longer Eddie’s flea market. But it was not a total loss. After an hour or so of poking around and evading a constant stream of touts from desperate peddlers, I hit pay dirt. On the far left edge of the bazaar, near the beach, several leathery-skinned foreigners lounged around tables, displaying their wares: karmic beads, ayurvedic oils, and trance music CDs. They obviously knew each other well, and shouted and laughed across the space.

Photograph by Klaus Nahr

I approached a weathered, shirtless man, with long braided plaits and copious amounts of beads dangling from his thin neck. He was sitting in animated conversation with a darkly tanned woman of about the same age, munching on a vada, a sort of Indian hush puppy. He saw me coming and stopped mid-sentence. As I stood looking down at him, I realized I wasn’t sure what to say. Before me sat an honest-to-goodness old school hippie, a testament to a bygone era and culture, and I was at a bit of a loss. He rescued my floundering interview by asking what I needed. His accent was vaguely Germanic. I told him I was interested to find out if anything was left of the legendary hippie culture for which Anjuna had once been so famous. I wanted his opinion. I wanted his story.

He took another bite of his vada and considered me for a moment. “Not much,” he said. “There’s not much left.” Thinking a moment, he continued. “A few of us do remain though, still living the liberated life. There are pockets, yes, but not very many.”

He then launched into a meandering and somewhat convoluted story of how he had first come to Goa with three friends in 1973, crossing overland from Europe, by train. “I’m the only one left now,” he said. “One is dead and the other two eventually went back. But I won’t leave. This is my life and my home.”

More than once, I asked his name and what country he had come from. He told me neither. “I am a citizen of creation,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”

Over time, it seemed, many of the remaining hippies had stopped coming to the market as it was increasingly conquered by package tourists and run of the mill handicrafts. This exodus apparently culminated with the death of Eight Finger Eddie himself in 2010. The same was true of the “full moon parties,” legendary raves where trance music reverberated across the sand, and the hippies partied until the sun rose. After backpackers flooded the scene in the early nineties, and the government instituted regulations on noise, most of the original revelers moved off to smaller, private affairs deeper in the forest. They still occurred, but they were not open to outsiders.

Another of the original pilgrims, who called himself Armand, told me there was no chance at all that I would find a full moon party. “That’s the point,” he clarified. “We don’t want outsiders to know about them. That’s what happened last time, and then we lost them.”

Armand said that there was a small group, including himself, who still ventured out to the market on a weekly basis, to “sell a few things, earn a little money for chai and weed.” They didn’t mind the tourists, he said. “After all, we were all tourists once. I hate losing the community that we had, but I can’t really blame them for wanting a bit of the same thing that I’ve been enjoying for over thirty years.”

I got precious few clues from the other hippies hanging around the market as to the location of their current settlements. Down the beach, I stopped in at Curlies, which had once been the principle hangout in Anjuna, where flower children would pass the days practicing yoga and getting high. Now, however, it had become a large restaurant, with sunbeds for rent, and a souvenir shop, selling their own line of T-shirts.

Photograph by Klaus Nahr

A young Indian waitress with well-practiced English shrugged at my question. “I don’t really know where they’ve gone,” she said. “I still see them around from time to time. I think a lot them move up to Vagator Beach. It’s less crowded up there.” Vagator Beach was two or three miles away. It wasn’t much of a lead, but it was something.

I decided to strike off north in that direction, sticking to the back lanes, with the hopes of stumbling across some secretive hippie enclave in the forest. It was now early afternoon and a blanket of hazy humidity permeated the air, obscuring the distant palms. An expanse of rice paddies stretched off toward the hills on my right, and dense jungle flanked the left side of the road. I tried to stay in the shadows and move slowly.

Rounding a bend in the dirt lane, I spotted a figure hunched over an embankment. It was a white man. Dressed only in thin, blousy trousers, he was staring crazily into the woods and gibbering to himself. Convinced that he would say something outrageously entertaining, I approached him from the side.

He was rocking slightly on his haunches. As I drew closer, I could see that he was covered in mosquito bites, some of them scabby, and that he was terrifically unwashed. Maybe he was forty, maybe he was sixty. Who could tell? His hair fell almost halfway down his bare back and his leathery skin hung a bit loosely on his thin frame.

“Hi there. Watcha doin’?” I asked casually.

No response.

“Who are you talking to?”

Still no response.

Leaning in a bit, the smells of smoke and tonic decay filled my nostrils. I gave it one more try.

“What are you looking at?” I asked. “Is there something out there that I should know about?”

He gave his head a startled jerk in my direction and stared up at me with a fair amount of confusion in his eyes. He said something about feathers and leaves and began muttering in a vaguely threatening way. I gave up and moved on down the road.

Turning back in toward the sea, I found myself passing through acres of palm forest, which looked as though it had been planted long ago with some purpose in mind. It was crisscrossed here and there by little lanes that led off one way and the other. Occasionally, somewhere in the distance, I would spot a raggedy foreigner on a motorcycle or bike, navigating the labyrinth of paths with familiar ease. Inevitably they disappeared before I reached them, and it was impossible to discern where they had gone. Someone was out there somewhere, but they were beyond my grasp.

Vagator Beach. Photograph by Ram Joshi

Eventually, the ubiquitous wooden signboards for bars and beach huts signaled that I was nearing Vagator beach. I cut through a small café and emerged hopefully out onto the sand. The beach was well populated with swimsuited holiday-makers, but I saw little evidence of Goa’s indigenous hippie community.

Sure, there were a fair number of sweaty foreigners, practicing yoga in the sun, but they were tourists and posers. Their disheveled appearance seemed practiced and intentional, and their sunburned skin belied their recent arrival to the tropics. Several Israeli backpackers sat up under the trees and smoked weed, animatedly conversing with Hebrew conviction, but they were all in their twenties. They were not the people that I was searching for.

Feeling a bit defeated, I gave up my search and wandered into a nameless little café beside the rocks. Ordering an overpriced and watery cappuccino, I sat and sulked in the breeze. Vestiges of Goa’s hippie past certainly remained. I had caught glimpses of it along the path. I had met stragglers and remnants, defiantly holding on to a piece of the flea market. A fading, yet vibrant kingdom remained out there, somewhere, but it did not want to be found.

The hippie fathers had trumpeted their discovery the first time around, and like prospectors in the Yukon, they had been overrun. Now, they zealously guarded what remained of their treasure. They would not make the same mistake again.

 

Chris Watts, a frequent contributor to EthnoTraveler, is a writer living in India.

 

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