Nepali Times Asian Paints
Google eyes


For the Nepali couch potato who prefers shopping at instead of walking down to his or her local Gurkha shop, the new tool from internet search engine Google will appeal for online travelling, shopping, and plain old-fashioned voyeurism. Google Earth provides the most efficient way to travel the globe and even meet other travelling couch potatoes without ever stepping outside the house.

At first glance, this new software looks like a collection of satellite images of Mother Earth mated with a video game interface yet after a few minutes of using this free program, you realise it goes far beyond watching TV or playing a video game. Most of us are familiar with the technology on view in any HollyBollywood spy-dance-thriller, where the spy apparatus zooms in from outer space on the evil person or vehicle on the ground.

Thanks to Google Earth, you too can zoom in on the backyard of your sathi in the US and see if they do indeed have that new Land Cruiser they've been boasting about. In short, Google Earth is just what it says: a three-dimensional interface to the Earth.

This, by the way, has upset the Government of India to no end after it found that the Pakistani government was Googling India's missile sites! Of course, a better use of this new educational tool cum online video game, would be to go trekking free of knee pain and blisters. Zoom the route from Kathmandu to Muktinath without a permit and 15 roadside security checks. And for the shoppers in us all, each of the globe's major cities is catalogued-with details ranging from Armani boutiques to Seven Elevens-with the exception of Kathmandu and Butwal.

The satellites that provide the images Google Earth uses rarely fly over our small kingdom, insignificant as it is in global military and commercial matters, so the imagery is not updated or connected to the world's global addressing system that has been online for years. (Heck, I don't even have an address, do you?). So you won't see a dot on the map labelled Bhat Bhatini Supermarket anytime soon-although by becoming a member of the Keyhole community, an online chat forum located within Google Earth, you can place points on a map or leave "posts" about anything you see.

You do have to download about 15 megabytes to your cyber terminal or home PC to be able to connect to Keyhole. But once that's done, you can chat with other Googlers who are busy exploring the intimate details of the globe or spotting possible UFOs. You could ask fellow Keyholers: Is that an Alien Crop Marking or an Army Radio tower? Where is the world's largest parking lot? Did my brother really put in a new pool? Fun and games abound.

I highly recommend this free program to all in the kingdom who have a high-speed internet connection. Educators and tourism professionals alike will find this program useful. Even though the US programmers at Google cannot spell Kathmandu, virtual tour guides in the West can highlight must-see sites in Nepal for those planning a visit. Teachers can demonstrate geography while students think they are playing a video game. I have personally corrected the location and spelling of the Pashupatinath Temple, which was marked as a momo shop somewhere west of New Baneswor! And here's a challenge for a die-hard geography buff: use the Keyhole forum to correct all the spelling mistakes of Nepali place names-too numerous to mention.

If you're interested in Google Earth, you better download and try it out soon. Many countries around the globe are beginning to protest this US corporate experiment (to give anyone online worldwide access to recent satellite imagery using a sophisticated searching scheme that your seven-year-old daughter could figure out). Or maybe those Googlers are looking for nuke sites and the whereabouts of al-Qaeda?

Check out Google Earth at

Jigme Gaton is a cartoonist for the Nepali Times and frequent contributor to this paper on issues of technology and culture.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)