I was very excited to meet Apa Sherpa who had come to Nepal from the United States on April 2014. This trip was headed towards Apa’s hometown Thame and its periphery. We didn’t only reach Apa’s house, but we also succeeded in making it accessible to the whole world through the Internet. I am now able to take you to the Everest region through Google Street View Map even before the start of this year’s Everest season.
To the world, the Everest region is famous – not for its people, culture, and the business but for its mountains. To the world and to most Nepalis, Mount Everest is a symbol of mystery and challenge. Nothing short of an expedition can take you to Everest.
It was during the spring season of 2012 that I got to know the Everest region, its people and its culture better. I was on a 99-day trek of The Great Himalayan Trail with Apa Sherpa.
Apa, who hails from the Everest region, holds the highest record of climbing Mount Everest. He has successfully climbed the mountain 21 times. And there I was, gazing up in amazement from Lukla. I wanted to visit Thame, the village where Apa was born and had grown up. What was there in this village that trained this man to climb Everest like people climb up stairs of their tall houses?
Although my trip was foiled by snowfall in 2012, I got another chance in 2014.
Before I had ventured on The Great Himalayan Trail, I had formed StoryCycle with some friends. We were on a pursuit of stories, not the common stories covered in mainstream media but stories of hidden and forgotten. And, we did not want to tell stories in the old Ramayana way. We wanted to show the stories through pictures, videos, graphics and maps. And the stories through the people not from through a Pundit.
I was inspired to start the idea of StoryCamp after embarking on the 99 days journey. The beginning of StoryCamp started to serve my quest for the vivid expression of such untold tales. The StoryCycle team started travelling to various small towns and villages of Nepal collecting stories and training local enthusiastic storytellers on newer technologies of sharing stories.
During our camps, we would mark the visited areas on Google maps and teach the same to fellow trainees in order to increase the digital footprint of the area. During our trip, we realized many places were not recorded on the map and hence their information was not available on the internet.
I had seen many beautiful places along the 1555-km stretch across Nepal during my 99-day trek and had recorded stories on some places but I had never been able to give a clearer picture of those areas due to the lack of technology and skills.
StoryCycle’s collaboration with Google in late 2013 came as a milestone towards fulfilling the dream when Google wanted to conduct mapping projects in Nepal. While Google had already started navigation services in Kathmandu, StoryCycle talked with the Apa Sherpa foundation about how best to go with it. We sent a proposal to Google about disseminating information about the Everest region using 360 degrees imagery. Google liked our idea and the dream to include Everest region in Google Street view became a reality.
A 13-member team from Google, including a three-member team led by Rales Semester from Google Earth Outreach, Apa Sherpa foundation and StoryCycle collectively started working on this campaign. It took two months to do pre-research, identify protagonists for the stories and to take permission from the government. Then, it took 11 days to shoot the videos and photographs in the area. The team took over 45000 shots of videos and still pictures. Ankur Sharma and Swapnil Acharya took 360 degree imagery, Shashank Shrestha incorporated the stories into video and RK Thapa drew pictures of various places and people.
It took us eight months to stitch the pictures together and another three months for verification. Finally, people can now have a virtual tour of the Everest region from their homes.
When I did the Great Himalayan Trail, I hadn’t been able to climb above Lukla due to snowfall. My dream to reach Apa’s house was fulfilled after four years. Now, everyone can see that house of the record-holder mountaineer from the comfort of their homes.
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