Filmed by Guarav Jani
DVD ($21.95), 94 minutes, NTSC
Dolby Digital Stereo 2CH
Yes, there’s a motorcycle in this video. The bike plays a crucial role, but this is much more than another motorcycle adventure; it’s the story of a life-altering experience.
It’s too bad that Riding Solo to the Top of the World is being distributed through the motorcycle underground, which immediately brands it as a weirdo with the “normal” video distribution channels. The result? Most people will unfortunately never see this gem.
It’s hard to describe this video because it’s amazing on several different levels. Guarav Jani not only completed an incredible journey through one of the most remote regions of the world by himself on — get this — a 350cc Royal Enfield, he also directed, scripted, narrated and filmed the entire adventure by himself.
Now you may think that this would result in an amateurish attempt at video, especially since Jani admits right up front that he’s never used a professional videocam before. But the result is camera work that ranks among the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen, and it’s not just because of the incredibly deep beauty of the scenery “at the top of the world”, but also because Jani has a true knack for the art of film, capturing shot after shot with perfect exposure, focus and, most important of all, intuitively artistic scene composition.
You could probably grab any random frame in the 94 minute film, print it and throw it on the wall and have a gorgeous work of art. But even if you don’t recognize the technique at work here or understand what it took to put it all together, surely you’ll be moved by the images and the story.
The basic idea has been seen before: man goes on a motorcycle adventure through remote wilderness. But where most videos would focus on the bikes and the breakdowns, Riding Solo to the Top of the World keeps the focus on the story. It’s all about the land and the people and how it changed Guarav Jani. His magic is in making us understand what this journey means to him.
Don’t get me wrong — incredibly stunning scenery certainly helps and so does the fact that this is one of the most remote regions in the world, inhabited with a deeply spiritual people who have a relationship with the Earth that is way more intimate than any one of us reading this web page.
This is a combination just begging to tell a story. But it’s also remarkable because it shows us a place that, if not for Jani, we would have never even known existed. Let’s face it: there aren’t too many places like that left on this fading planet…
Jani took some risks for sure, but we never really learn much about the effects on the Enfield, and that’s not a problem at all. Instead, the bike is a tool and a metaphor for the single-mindedness of the journey. Riding solo on a motorcycle on any type of long-distance adventure through the wilderness is a trip unto itself, and even more so at, say, 18,634 feet on the highest road in the world where altitude sickness is an immediate and deadly threat.
As the story goes, National Geographic wasn’t even allowed to visit some of the places that we see on Jani’s trip. Apparently, a single traveler on an old Enfield slipped through the cracks of the military border guards in a way that the big guys couldn’t — and probably wouldn’t.
The basic idea was for Jani to tour through the Changthang Plateau, way up in the north of India, situated between the Ladakh and Himalayas (I told you it was a place you’ve never heard of!).
He carried all of his equipment, water and extra fuel on the tiny Enfield, stopping along the way to get some rough metal framing added to the bike to carry the 300kg of equipment. Jani shows us in the video how he would have to set up the camera, go back, ride towards or away from the cam and then go back to get it for each shot of him on the bike. That in and of itself must have been a frustrating experience, especially with some of the conditions in that region.
The result is a really wonderful view for the entire family, motorcycle nut or not. The film has won several awards so far, including Best Documentary Award (Biography), at the 2006 Kerala Signs Film Festival; Recipient of National Critics Award and the Golden Conch for Best Documentary at the 2006 Mumbai International Film Festival and it was nominated for Best International Documentary Award at the 2006 Calgary International Film Festival.
Guarav Jani is apparently coming to the U.S. this summer and will be scheduling some showings with local motorcycle clubs and answering questions about this remarkable video. Do yourself a favor and either buy a copy or go see Guarav if he’s in your neck of the woods. Highly recommended.