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Tackling the Heights Together

July 29, 2015

When it comes to the honeymoon destination, there are a number of obvious favourites. Europe, particularly Paris, gets a good run. The island beach resort, be it south-east Asia or Caribbean, would be a clubhouse leader. And a US adventure with any combination of New York, LA or Vegas is also on the popular list. Cycling in India on a tandem bike to one of the highest roads in the world is … well … one of the more unique ideas – in fact, I can’t seem to find it on the popular list at all.

For Laura and Ashley Weyman-Jones, the epic Indian cycle adventure is exactly what they wanted to do for their honeymoon, and a trip that they successfully completed in 2014.

“It’s the highest road in the world – it always just seemed like the ultimate challenge – so we’d been thinking about doing it for a while,” explains Ashley.

Getting married, it turns out, presented an opportunity too good to pass up.

“We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on our wedding – it just wasn’t something that made sense to us – but we knew we could put it towards our honeymoon, so the real plans flowed from there,” he added.

Before we go any further, there is an obvious question that needs to be addressed: why a tandem bike?

“It’s a simple answer really,” says Laura laughing, “Ashley is just way faster than me. It’s not much fun for him if he feels like he can’t go at a normal pace, and not much fun for me if I don’t feel like I can keep up, whereas the tandem means we can help each other and ride together.”

“Ultimately, we love each other’s company, and the tandem means that we’re sharing each moment together,” adds Ashley. “We are constantly talking and noticing things together and voicing thoughts as they happen, whereas if you’re on separate bikes, there is a tendency to split at some point then meet up later and you find out you missed some things.”

cycling the himalaya

Shannon Hope is making tracks of her own...

It should also be noted that the guys are old-hands on the tandem. At the end of 2011 they flew to London and cycled back to Australia in an epic 14-month journey that covered more than 25,000km across 28 countries.

“Riding from London to Australia prepared us for what life would be like on the bike from a logistical point of view,” says Laura. “We knew what we needed to be self-sufficient and learnt how we could minimise what we had to carry. Having said that, nothing can really prepare you for riding at the altitude we had in India.”

With the inspiration on full charge, and the wedding presenting an opportunity, Laura and Ashley set about devising the specific route they would travel. Well… sort of.

“We had a fairly basic overview map and carried more specific maps on our phones,” explains Ashley. “Essentially, we were always going to follow the road from Amritsar near the Pakistan border, through Manali and Ladakh and onto Leh. It’s an extraordinary piece of road.” Of course, what that doesn’t describe is the five major passes they would encounter on the way – two of which were more than 5000m high.

Just as they had done in their London to Australia trip, Laura and Ashley carried all their own supplies through careful arranging on the bike – even attaching a small solar power cell at the front of the bike to keep the technology and GPS charged on the go. They landed, assembled the bike, loaded the supplies and hit the road almost immediately.

While the journey started well enough, Ashley was hit with a bout of giardia early on that significantly affected him; however they were carrying appropriate medication and he was able to overcome it to move on. Aside from that obvious challenge, the only other health concern was conquering the obligatory altitude sickness, but Laura and Ashley believe that they may have found it easier than other tourists as the physical cycling ensured they kept blood pumping and had a more gradual rise in altitude than someone on a motorbike or 4WD.

Tough hill climb cycling himalayas

While it all sounds like pretty smooth sailing, it only takes a quick chat to uncover an incredible positivity in the couple to suggest that they encountered many obstacles that would have finished other people. Indeed, so encouraging and cheerful are the guys that in a short space of time I started to think that maybe I could do the ride myself one day… naturally that thought left me fairly quickly.

“The visual aspect was extraordinary,” says Ashley. “I don’t see how you could be disappointed. It was definitely a challenge, but it’s an extraordinary experience.”

Laura was quick to add however that the state of the roads did present some difficulties, particularly at the higher altitudes where melting snow had caused significant damage.

“The tandem bike has 20-inch wheels, which makes things really difficult in tough terrain, and so with the poor quality roads it was pretty slow going at times,” she explains. “We also had to dismount a number of times and carry the bike over what was essentially a mini river running across the road – and that gets very tiring.”

The scenery may have been beautiful and the roads – at times – very challenging; however both guys say they were amazed at the wonderfully friendly nature of the locals.

“You are the least threatening person on a bicycle, and so the people were lovely and welcoming,” says Laura. “And on top of that, you meet people who would not come out if you arrived on a big tourist bus, so you get to know these amazing characters.” Aside from the cheerful greetings and offers of support that you might expect by attempting the road on a bicycle, the unique look of the tandem brought out extra interest from the locals … and their cameras. If Ashley and Laura had been paid per photo they were asked to pose for, it’s fair to say that they could have made a tidy profit from the journey.

Laura and Ashley tandem bike

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“Everyone was so friendly, and when you consider the areas we rode through it’s an enlightening experience,” says Ashley. “It’s a ride that covers all religions and a multitude of races, and we were welcomed wherever we went. It’s a lesson for all people really.”

Not content with just covering the traditional route, Laura and Ashley decided to follow the road beyond Leh up to Kardung La, shedding a lot of their extra supplies and taking a day trip up to the 5359m pass before descending back for the night.

“Kardung La is the highest road in the world, so we could hardly pass up the opportunity to give it a go,” says Laura.

Not surprisingly, their strength and positivity saw them complete the extra leg with great success.

Cycling the himalayas hero image

While the tandem bike may not be the first choice for many people planning a cycling holiday, it does reflect the way this amazing couple tackled this massive challenge.

“The tandem is great,” says Laura, “if one person is having an off day, then the other person can carry them.”

Well said.

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