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Time Machine to the 70’s: Beyond drugs, rainbows and Mardi Gras

Although it’s sometimes true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are many places whose allure is simply undeniable – especially here in Australia.

From hidden enclaves in the hinterland to modern urbanite marvels, this country’s got plenty of beauty to go around.

One such destination is Nimbin- a lush hinterland located near Byron Bay. This place is especially known as a hub for counterculture and alternate social activities.  Our travel writer – Keerthana K, shares her travel experience and  inspirations from her recent trip to Nimbin ..

‘Nimbin’- This little town set in an impossibly pretty valley that almost drowns under the weight of its own clichés’- seems to be an apt description of this place, given by Lonely Planet.

One cannot describe Nimbin without using the corny terms- cannabis-capital, hippie-haven, counter-culture; and you sure would have heard it all.

Tell a person you are visiting the place and you are sure to get a wink or a naughty smile. Rainbow coloured shops, love and peace signs, psychedelic street art, happy brownies, crafts boutiques, Mardi Gras, reggae music and art ; this little town pulls out every cliché in the book, and then some more!

But what many people do not get is- there is much more to this place, than what meets the eye.

Tucked away in the lush-green scenic hills, the village is well hidden from the eyes of the urban world, at a location which is easy to be missed. An hour’s drive, to the west of Byron Bay, on the breath-takingly picturesque serpentine roads, will lead you to Nimbin- a place from a different era; a paradise where time has drastically slowed down, and is reluctant to move out of its 70s time warp.

It has a vibe, so different than any of the other places in Australia. Every place is artistic and every wall is a canvas to express radical thoughts and share poetic wisdom. It is a civic history plucked straight out of a conservative nightmare or a liberal fantasy, depending on whichever way you choose to look at it from.

It takes just minutes to traverse the town centre, which spans a mere 250 metre stretch of road. Occupied by businesses flogging identical selections of rainbow hippie harems from India, slogan T-shirts and artistic marijuana paraphernalia, this place has a lot of quirky stuff to offer.

All this is beautiful to look at, but the value system of this village runs much deeper than what appears on the surface. The small population of just about 2000, strongly believes in the idea of self-sustainability and sufficiency; and is teaching the world a thing or two about how not to be greedy. They build their own houses, have their own little farms and poultry, create alternative schools and cultivate gardens together.

When you grow your own food and have your own livestock, the so-called ‘costs of living’ largely disappear, and you become untethered to the work-earn-spend vicious cycle of consumer economy, and thrive, instead, in a more self-sufficient world, where monetary income is less essential to lead a richer life. Perhaps this is the simplicity and satisfaction that glows in the eyes of the people here- a zen state of mind reflecting in the eyes, which perhaps the ‘tourists’ interpret as the effects of the green herb. Of late, this lifestyle has been striking a cord with a lot of Sydneysiders who are deciding to shun the busy city lives in cramped apartments and buying lands in this village to build their dreams and lead a peaceful life.

The village was not always like this. As the famous story goes- Nimbin was a sleepy little dairy village in a lush setting of farmlands and forests before a Woodstock  Aquarius Festival brought in thousands of students, in May 1973, many of whom decided to stay on after the scheduled 10 days, to lead a counter-cultural sustainable lifestyle, which the festival strongly represented.

It was the fourth and the last Aquarius Festival ever held (the previous ones being in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra respectively), but another festival soon took its place in the later years- the festival we know today as the famous Nimbin Mardi Gras. It has notably undertaken many environmental initiatives such as permaculture, and if you have affinities in the green movement, the Nimbin Environmental Centre on Cullen Street educates on various environmental issues, and sustainability which is gaining ground worldwide, especially in developing countries.

Placed right in the lap of nature, the drive leading to Nimbin, and also the areas surrounding it, are blessed with natural beauty. 3kms south-west of Nimbin, one can reach the Nimbin Rocks, which are volcanic extrusions from Tweed Volcano, that erupted millions of years ago, and have a great cultural significance to the Aboriginal tribes. The Protesters Falls located in the World Heritage-listed rainforests of Nightcap National Forest makes for a scenic halt, with an interesting history. One can also explore Mount Warning  which is touted to be the first place of Mainland Australia to receive the light of each sunrise. The summit of Mount Warning can be climbed via a 9km trek, which most people start during midnight so as to witness the first sunrays hitting Australia.

Nimbin is definitely not to everyone’s taste, and at the first sight, it somewhere appeals to the hippie in you, if at all there is one. With a village of this size, most people would find it suitable for a day’s outing, or two days at the most, to soak in the beauties that meet the eye. But to actually understand, be a part of, and adopt this culture of completely giving in to nature and let it make you self-sustainable, less-greedy and more in touch with the human in you, one really needs to stay much longer.

So, next time you are in Byron Bay, make sure you visit this unusual gem with an open mind, and may be it will give you a peek into its colourful history, or teach its interesting way of life, which even books cannot teach. If nothing, you will at least enjoy the unusual shops, and the various hippie- clichés which it is proclaimed to offer.



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