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India's other hippie trail: 5 places to take it easy, man
In these less-visited towns, it's the 1970s all over again
While the original India hippie trail of places like Goa and Varanasi has been overwhelmed by commercial tourism, there are other quieter towns that have maintained that laid-back vibe of self-discovery and alternative consciousness.
Though geographically and culturally contrasting, these five offbeat destinations spanning the length of the country are today's hotbeds of hippie culture, holding the promise of easy living and the ever-elusive shanti.
Regal relics and "special drinks": Hampi
Grand monuments such as the Virupaksha temple and the Queen's Bath, have put Hampi on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
But unlike many destinations steeped in stolid history, this place has maintained a sort of hammock-swinging, moped-riding, river-crossing-coracle-holding-six-people-and-a-motorcycle badass cool.
On the banks of the river Tungabhadra rises this 26-square-kilometer village of stone.
Hampi was one of the most beautiful capitals of the medieval Hindu Kingdom, Vijayanagar. It is now a popular spot for architecture geeks, religious pilgrims and hippies seeking spiritual enlightenment.
When locals approach you with nonchalance to ask if you need a room, man, or if you'd like to bathe with their elephant, you have arrived at Hampi.
Cafés with names like Reggae River and Shanti Restaurant line the main street. The walls are covered in murals of psychedelic mushrooms and Bob Marley is usually jammin' in the background. Hummus with pita bread and Nutella pancakes are standard fare here.
Menus include a subtly labeled "special drinks" section.
Getting there: Hospet is the transit town for getting to Hampi. From the Hospet railway station or bus station, Hampi is just a half-hour bus, auto rickshaw or taxi ride away.
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Beats in the valley: Tosh
In the far reaches of the Himalayas where modern influences are scarce, there lies the definitive Indian mountain settlement, Tosh, in Himachal Pradesh.
The village is composed of a scattering of wooden houses built into the mountainside overlooking the snaking Parvati River. This settlement doesn’t feature on many tourist maps or bus routes.
The agrarian community mainly tends to its sheep, fruit orchards -- and marijuana plantations.
But the most important aspect of this hidden village is the beats that reverberate across the valley.
Mr. Dorji, caretaker of the Olive Garden guesthouse, explains: "We make rave party deep in the forest [sic], every time in a secret location. Many Europeans and Israelis come."
He then proceeds to load two enormous speakers into a tiny Maruti van, which promptly drives off into the misty oblivion of the mountains.
Getting there: Tosh is accessible via a two-hour uphill trek or a half-hour taxi ride from Barshaini town. Barshaini is the last stop on the local bus route from Bhuntar, via Kasol and Manikaran.
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Most 1970s: Kasol
Down below Tosh, at the banks of the Parvati River is Kasol, a base camp for treks to Khirganga and the Pin Parvati Pass.
Cheap accommodation and good food have given this town the reputation of a backpackers' haunt, evident from the Hebrew signboards and dreadlocked hippies on the street.
The market stretch is set against a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains and a roaring river, lined with cafés and small shops selling Ali Baba pants, chillum-pipes and backpacks.
Evergreen and Little Italy are two popular cafés here, frequented by an eclectic mix of insouciant travelers and chai-sipping, hashish-roasting babas (holy men). French Onion soup and cheesy baguettes are popular menu items.
Warmed by coal fires and in a haze of second-hand smoke, with sitar-strains in the background and free-flowing conversations about spirituality filling the room, it is a throwback to the 1970s in Kasol.
Getting there: Kasol can be reached via bus from Bhuntar, which is also the nearest airport. All buses on the routes between Kullu, Manali and Delhi stop at Bhuntar.
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Beach shaped like "om": Gokarna
Gokarna is in equal measure a pilgrimage center and a haven for slow-moving beach bums.
As the Western Ghats wind their way down to India's west coast, the Arabian sea carves out stretches of sand in the shadow of the forested hills. Not too far away, devotees of Lord Shiva congregate at the Mahabaleshwar Temple.
The three best beaches of Gokarna -- Om, Kudle and Paradise -- conform to every hippie-town norm, with a sprinkling of rasta-colored cafés and dreadlocked backpackers.
The requisite trance music sets the mood, while seafood and the usual European fare feature on every menu. The beach is dotted by travelers with djembes swinging at the hip, or doing yoga by the ocean.
Om beach is named for the Sanskrit symbol it resembles and houses the Namaste Café, the largest and most populous shack in the region.
Paradise beach attracts mostly long-term international travelers seeking uninterrupted periods of easy living.
Getting there: The nearest railway station is at Hubli Junction, from where Gokarna can be reached by bus. Direct buses to Gokarna also leave from Goa and Bangalore.
Shanti at the hot springs: Vashisht
Vashisht is the getaway from the getaway. About three kilometers north of the hill station Manali in Himachal Pradesh, Vashisht is where many Indian families make day trips to bathe in the hot springs.
But a cursory glance around the hillside is enough to spot the flashes of rasta colors from rooftop cafes, the milling groups of didgeridoo-sporting backpackers and hear the strains of electronic music.
Vashisht is still pristine, an offbeat mountain-destination overlooking the Beas River. What is it that makes travelers linger here? Kiran, host at the Maya Bodh Niwas guesthouse, explains: "It's the shanti, man."
An open-air German Bakery forms the nexus of this town. This shanty with long wooden benches is an ideal spot to people-watch and socialize with fellow travelers over cups of cappuccino and slices of apple crumble.
For a change of scenery, there's the Jogini waterfall, a serene spot with beautiful mountain views, accessible via a half hour trek through a quaint village and apple orchards.
Getting there: Vashisht can be reached from Manali by auto rickshaw or taxi.
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