Print Edition - 2015-03-21  |  On Saturday

Khumbu street-viewed

  • Google Earth Outreach has partnered with local organisations—StoryCycle and the Apa Foundation—to help locals in the Everest region digitally represent their areas on Google Maps
- Chahana Sigdel
Khumbu street-viewed

Mar 20, 2015-

It is now possible to tour one of the most treacherous and enthralling places on earth from the comfort of your sofa. From an armchair, one can now traverse the home of the majestic Mount Everest, navigate through the tortuous trekking trails, look down and see the icy blue rivers, and even meet a yak or two. What Lonely Planet has described as one of the 10 best regions to explore in 2015 is now on Street View, with tech titan Google recently launching a virtual tour with 360-degree panoramic images of the Everest region.

In March last year, Google Earth Outreach partnered with local organisations—StoryCycle and the Apa Foundation—to help locals in the Everest region digitally represent their areas on Google Maps. Led by mountaineering legend Apa Sherpa, the team trekked for 10 days, capturing indoor and outdoor snapshots—which were later digitally stitched together to allow a 360-degree view of the region. A thirteen-member crew hiked for 71 hours collecting over 365 GB of data and 1,000 map points in and around five villages of the Everest region. Locals were part of the project as well, with 33 villagers participating in a digital-mapping session where they suggested places to add to the map.

The result is the Khumbu region’s map as it appears on Google’s Street View, with a scintillating introductory video, and which goes on to display five villages in the region—Thame, Phortse, Namche Bazaar, Khumjung and Lukla. Visitors can either scroll through a slideshow or click on the locations on the online map to see images of the villages.  

Each individual section can be navigated through intuitive controls and the shot zooms in on special attractions of that particular place. Inside Namche Bazaar, you can stop by at a yak parking lot, tour the Sherpa Culture Museum and also watch a video in which the last survivor of the landmark expedition of 1953 reminisces about his journey up Mt Everest: “Everything, I remember everything,” quips Kancha Sherpa. Now in his 80s, Sherpa was a porter on the historic expedition when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first people to successfully ascend the highest peak in the world.

“The region has much more to offer than just the mountain,” writes the 21-times Mount Everest-climber Apa Sherpa in a blog post tagged to the mapping site. “Our region is famous for being home to Everest, but it’s also the home of the Sherpa community and has been so for centuries,” the summiteer says. He says he hopes people viewing the images online will develop a deeper understanding of the region and of the people who live there.

When the camera focuses on Thame, which is also Apa Sherpa’s home, the viewer can cruise through Shree Thame Boarding School, built by Edmund Hillary and run by the Apa Foundation. You also get to go inside Apa Sherpa’s prayer room, see the Everest summiteer’s lodge, and stop at the Thame Dam.

The overall experience should be a delightful one for both the community and adventure seekers. It brings the trekkers closer to the Everest trek they’ve been planning, gives non mountaineers a chance to view the amenities available near Base Camp, while the locals can benefit from digital connectivity with possible tourists.

Google Maps with Street View, which was launched in 2007, has captured some of the world’s most far-flung destinations—from the majestic pyramids of Egypt to the dense Amazon rainforest. Along with global landmarks and natural wonders, it encompasses locations such as museums, arenas, and universities.

“With the proliferation of the Internet and technology, there is so much that can be done, even in the remotest parts of the world,” says Saurav Dhakal, founder of Story Cycle. “All we did was connect the dots. In 2013, the Story Cycle team was invited to attend a conference by Google Earth Outreach and that meeting later culminated in this full-fledged project.”

At 36, Dhakal is the oldest member of Story Cycle, a team of young enthusiasts who aim to connect age-old communities with new media. They organise story camps in remote places, collect stories and then aggregate them online. “The Google project is informed by a similar ethos. It is about the people, their stories and how they can connect with the rest of the world,” he says, speaking of his latest project.

People from all over the globe have already had a glimpse of the Everest region as it appears on the digital map, and the locals too will soon be able to see the final product. During a special screening of the Google’s Street View of the Khumbu Region scheduled for next month, the locals will get to see how their homes appear to the rest of the world.

Published: 21-03-2015 08:35

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