David Gallagher, 80, has lived a life that many would be envious of. He has lived in every continent possible. From Europe to Asia to Africa and the Americas, he has been everywhere doing everything possible.
But, there is always been one journey that he has remembered fondly – his journey from home in Liverpool to Nepal on a vintage Land Rover in the summer of 1965.
“I wanted to travel to places I’d never been to,” says Gallagher at a hotel in Kathmandu after 57 years. “I’d been to major European places and I wanted to venture out into the unknown and through that journey, I did exactly that.”
Like most foreigners during the 60s, David Gallagher wanted to explore the world and find meaning in life. He did not just want to drive to Nepal, he wanted to learn about the culture, people and places along the way too. That is why it took him six months to get to Nepal. Usually, most hippies from Europe would get to Nepal in little over a fortnight but he stopped in various places because he wanted to learn about the places he visited and not just drive past them.
The Nepal trip
On his journey to Nepal, David Gallagher drove past Yugoslavia, Turkey and Iran. He says he was amazed by the former communist state. Turkey’s Istanbul was another place that intrigued him as he spent quite a time roaming around the streets of the Turkish capital. Iran was a mystery to him. The people and the place fascinated him. He was not aware of the politics going on in the region, but it did not matter.
“Isfahan and the blue city were just amazing,” he says.
Then it was Afghanistan next. He had been there just before the soviets were around and were in awe of how basic the place was.
“Basic but interesting… The people were so pure. I felt how naïve we were and this journey taught me a lot about the world. It was more than just sightseeing.”
David Gallagher drove to the Buddhas of Bamiyan and into Pakistan, India and then on to Nepal.
“I attended a Ravi Shankar concert in New Delhi, went to the ghats of the Banaras and then came to Nepal which was so raw and beautiful I was left speechless.”
He recalls how a few vehicles were on the roads then. The people were all dressed in traditional clothing and the air was fresh.
“Compared to now, the place was heaven. There was no smog. Not motorbikes. Just vast patches of farmlands and the Himalayas. No wonder so many French were here.”
The hippy trail was slowly establishing itself. People from Europe were driving buses and vans to Bangkok while Australians were driving their vehicles to the beer festivals in Munich.
“Nepal was like a centre point. It was where everyone met and had fun.”
David Gallagher recalls how most of them would spend time around many temples in the valley listening to Nepali traditional music and smoking marijuana.
“The chillum would go around and everyone would have a shot. Those were simpler times.”
He loved the food too, he says. Unlike now, there were very few restaurants as most of the food was sold on stalls on the street.
As David Gallagher was making his way all the way to Nepal travelling through the lap of the Hindu Kush region, he made another observation. “When you are travelling, you expect the toilets to be horrible and they were; the six months were full of such experiences. The majority of people, even in Nepal, were using pit latrines, but they would be full of flies and insects as well as very smelly. It was the same on the Indian trains.”
Yet, for a nomadic lifestyle, he says the toilets were secondary, “Since we would be travelling for days, at the end of the day, what we needed was a shower to clean and stay hygienic.”
Leaving the Land Rover
David Gallagher wanted to tour more, but he knew he could not take his Land Rover any further. He had decided to sell it in India, but tax regulations stopped him from doing so and decided to drive up to Nepal and sell it here.
“I put a for sale sign in Nepali and in a few days, a pig farmer came and bought it off me. He said he traded pig bristles for hair brushes in the UK. Was a fascinating man.”
David Gallagher also recalls how he used children to exchange the Nepali rupees for dollars. He asked a few kids to help him do that and a few days later the kids came up with foreigners who had just arrived in Nepal and in need of Nepali rupees.
With that money, he went to the Everest base camp. Camping along, he recalls how simple things were.
Following that, David Gallagher left Nepal and went to Vietnam where he worked as a journalist for an Australian newspaper. Then, he travelled to Hong Kong where he set up a club, then off to Indonesia and on to Australia.
“It was a journey of a lifetime.”
Living Nepal today
In 2018, he returned to Nepal after more than five decades of his travel. When he first landed in Kathmandu, he was shocked. The place had changed.
David Gallagher had expected it to change but was shocked at what had become of the once hippy oasis.
“I hate how there are a million motorbikes in the area. The buildings were all gone and the people looked different. The Nepal I knew isn’t there anymore even though in essence, it’s still around.”
As an advocate for sanitation across the world, he is disappointed to see how toilet culture has not improved in Kathmandu. “I saw people paying for toilets in dark and dodgy places. The toilets reminded me of the dodgy toilets in the west that would be tucked away in the corner that even made men feel unsafe. In the toilets, I also saw that 95 per cent of the faeces was going to rivers.”
In a couple of recent years, however, the status of toilets has changed a bit, but there is still a lot to do for women and women with kids, whom David Gallagher considers the most vulnerable. “The toilets also needed to be more gender-friendly and accessible to all, with a focus on sanitation.“