Stefan Ublinger, 35, a former human resource employee, working in a private company in Austria dreamt of travelling around the globe using an eco-friendly mode of transportation. His desire to undertake such a journey got wings in 2017 when he met Theresa Dopperlbauer, 31, who was then working with an NGO.
Since then, both the natives of Austria have been travelling across many European and Central Asian countries on their bicycles and are currently in the Kashmir valley.
"I started dreaming of this bicycle expedition in the year 2015. In 2017, we (Stefan Ublinger & Theresa Doppelbauer) got to know each other and became a couple.
“Theresa was excited about the idea of doing a bicycle journey right from the beginning of the relationship. But of course we still had to work and save money, so we could travel that long on our savings. Theresa worked in an NGO for environment-friendly transport and mobility and I in a private company,” he said.
Stefan and Theresa both have a liking for rural places as the couple have been born and raised in places away from the city life in Austria. However, both have worked in the cities mostly in the capital of Austria, Vienna. The couple wants to promote a sustainable eco-friendly mode of transport through their journey.
“We both were living in Vienna, but were raised in the countryside. We both love being in nature, in the mountains and riding our bicycles. Even though we ride it on a daily basis commuting to our workplace, we never did such a long and this kind of fully packed cycling trip.
“Actually Stefan started cycling already in September 2019, while I worked in Mexico for half-a-year and we were supposed to meet in Georgia and cycle together from there on,” Theresa said.
The outbreak of COVID-19 put a halt on their plans of inter-country cycling expedition but that didn't dampen their spirit. The couple since then has travelled to several countries in the European and Asian region including Iran and Pakistan.
"As the COVID virus engulfed the entire globe, we both had to go home and wait for another year, till the situation got better. After working and saving more money we finally embarked on this journey on March 21 last year.
“We cycled through Slovenia and Italy with still lots of COVID restrictions. From the south of Italy we took a ferry to Greece and enjoyed the most beautiful beaches there. From there we cycled through the very hot and welcoming Turkey. Later we went to the Caucasus in Georgia and the hilly land of Armenia.
“To our luck Iran opened its borders and we travelled for three and a half months through this diverse country and met the most hospitable people. Later we cycled in Pakistan, mostly in the stunning mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Again we were lucky that India opened its land border to Pakistan and our journey could go on. As we want to live on a small CO2 footprint it is very important for us to avoid flying by plane,” adds Stefan.
When asked about their objective for taking such a long trip, the couple said, "Our objectives are many but just to name a few we can say that we love to explore the world, its people, the nature and landscapes and everything it has to offer. By travelling on bicycle we are really connecting to the culture, meeting hundreds of people on the way and are slow enough to enjoy all the details along the way.
“As we mainly sleep in our tent, we enjoy each day in a new home, have a different view for breakfast and dinner and we never know how and where the day will end. Again we live in and with nature. We are fully independent as we also carry a fully equipped kitchen and only need to find some veggies, fruits and other basic food to supply ourselves.
“At the same time we also stay at houses of people whom we meet along our journey. There is no way to compare this kind of travelling with just having a few days vacation and hustling from one site to another or just relaxing in a hotel.
Stefan said the couple settled on a less materialistic way of life and have met many people around the world who could do the same, with less financial background coming from all over the world.
“We absolutely love this way of travelling, even though of course it might not always be easy with many new and unexpected challenges on the way and of course it can be exhausting too. So far we have almost cycled 15000 kilometres and about 130000 meters uphill and many more to come."
The couple has been in India for more than seven weeks now and is in awe with the experience in this country so far.
"We have been exploring India for about seven weeks now. We visited Punjab, Delhi, Agra, did Vipassana meditation in Dharamkot and are now travelling through beautiful Jammu & Kashmir.
“We especially love cycling up here in Kashmir, because of its beautiful landscape, nature and more moderate temperatures. We did hiking in Pahalgam and Aru which are now among our favourite places overall. It reminds us a lot of our home country Austria which has very similar mountains. We will stay for some more time and maybe go for hiking adventures in Kashmir and then move on to Ladakh.
The couple said they aim to take the Tanglang La Pass, move on to Spiti and then cycle towards Dehradun and Rishikesh where they want to do a Yoga-teacher seminar.
“After that we will explore Nepal, the Annapurna circuit and hopefully come back to India with a new visa. After that we have new challenges as we want to move on to Southeast Asia and actually till Japan without flying.
“But I guess we will resolve this along the way as we always did. Going back home from there will be another task, but we usually think and plan from step to step,” Stefan said.
They said so far their experience during the expedition has been warm and exciting. "Cheers to all the beautiful and warmhearted people around the world! If there is one message we want to spread it is, go out there and meet the people. We are all the same and there is no reason for fear. And of course take care of our planet and its nature. Not just because of its beauty and all other beings on it, but also because it is our source of life."