Directed by Gaurav Jani
Dirt Track Productions
(2006) 94 minutes
by Victor Wanchena
Sometimes a motorcycle trip is best enjoyed alone. “Riding Solo to the Top of the World” documents a trip that captures the highs and lows of traveling solo in this award-winning documentary of the solo ride by the film maker, Gaurav Jani, from his home in Mumbai, India to Changthang Plateau. At an average height of 15,000 feet, the plateau is truly the roof of the world. Its remote, inaccessible location between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges isolates it from the rest of the world. Inhabited by nomadic herdsmen known as Champas, the plateau is largely untouched by the events of the outside world.
The film opens with Gaurav explaining his desire as a filmmaker to mount a motorcycle expedition to the Changthang Plateau, but the expense and complexity of such a trip make Gaurav realize that if he is to go, he must go alone. He loads his 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet with 200 pounds of gear and supplies, and sets off for the Changthang, an area where the roads are as sparse and tough as the people that live there.
His planned route is 5,000 kilometers in length. His plan is to head for Leh, the capital of Ladakh Province. From there, he will head to the Changthang Plateau and travel its length before heading for home. He hopes to spend time with the Champas and gain a better understanding of their way of life.
You quickly become aware of the challenges Gaurav faces working the camera by himself. He shares a candid moment as he huffs up a hillside to grab his camera after recording himself riding past. We also see Gaurav suffer the effects of living at high altitude, and the rigors of keeping his Enfield going. His attitude towards the land and the people becomes evident as well. He is not coming to Changthang to conquer it; he instead wishes to experience it the best way he knows how, from the seat of his motorcycle.
There are three main characters in this film, Gaurav, the Champas, and the Changthang. For me, the Changthang steals the show. This remote and beautiful land has a powerful draw in its austere simplicity. Certainly not a vacation destination in the conventional sense, those with a love of the wide open will find themselves considering a trip while poring over a map of India. The plateau is best summed up by a Champa expression from the start of the film: “The land is so barren and the passes so high that only our best friends or fiercest enemies would want to visit us.” The adventure-touring crowd will marvel at Gaurav and his Enfield. He didn’t need to max out his Visa card on the Touratech catalog to have an amazing ride.
The film is not a how-to documentary on riding to Changthang. Nor is it simply a film of someone’s bike trip. “Riding Solo” is a cultural documentary of the Changthang and the Champas as captured from a motorcycle. As Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a disappointment for those looking for an Eastern philosophy of motorcycle repair, “Riding Solo” will disappoint those who want non-stop motorcycle mayhem in a remote country. But viewers looking to gain insight on the culture of this remote land that time forgot will be rewarded with a rich glimpse at this intriguing part of the world.
“Riding Solo” is available from www.cyclenutz.com, who graciously provided us with our copy. You can view a trailer of “Riding Solo” at www.cyclenutz.com on the page with the product listing for Riding Solo.