Thanks to Suresh Babu, you can go on a virtual tour of 22 tourist spots in Tamil Nadu

A year ago, A. Suresh Babu set out with nothing more than a camera in hand and the seed of an idea, to gorgeous old temples and monuments such as the Kailasanathar Kovil in Kanchipuram and the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal in Madurai.

The exhaustive sets of photographs he took there were transformed into beautifully-lit, intricately-detailed virtual tours of ancient architectural structures on www.view360.in.

And, when Tourism Secretary V. Irai Anbu saw the website, Suresh was quickly commissioned to do a similar series on various tourist locations in the State.

A variety of places

Today, www.view360.in provides virtual tours of 22 tourist spots from Ooty and Kodaikanal to Topslip and Valparai for Tamil Nadu Tourism, and has had over 2.5 lakh hits from nearly 150 countries around the world in the last six months.

The boy from Chidambaram, who loved temple architecture and always wanted to be a photographer, had finally arrived.

“I met Mr. Irai Anbu on September 5th morning, and he had given me the order by evening,” says Suresh, who came to Chennai five years ago, and had been working as an ad film editor. “He said, ‘can you do 11 locations in the next 22 days?'”

The answer, of course, was yes. For the next three weeks, he travelled non-stop to Madurai, Rameswaram, Courtallam, Kanyakumari, Yelagiri, Kolli Hills and more, struggling often with permission to enter or take photographs.

“Invariably, I had to spend a day in each place fighting for permission,” he recalls with a laugh. “I couldn't have done it without help from the Tourism Department.”

The detailed photography, which captures 360 degree views of forts, temples, waterfalls and gardens, took time as well — just photographing the Meenakshi Amman Kovil in Madurai took him half a day, with a single courtyard needing about 28 shots. But, he managed to put them all together, including the post-production work, and the website was officially launched on September 30, 2009.

Commercial projects too

Since then, he's completed another 11 indoor and outdoor locations for the Department, including the Gingee Fort, the Chettinad Palace in Karaikudi and the Big Temple in Thanjavur, in addition to some commercial projects (hotels, hospitals, etc.) and some Chennai locations out of his own interest (the Armenian Church, the now-demolished Central Prison, etc.).

Virtual tour technology has been around since 1999, and has been applied to tourism extensively in the West, which is how Suresh got his initial idea. “You can see Paris through virtual tours; I thought, why not do the same for Tamil Nadu tourism?” says Suresh, who has been a photography enthusiast since the age of 18.

And, the ideas keep coming. At present, the locations covered by Suresh are embedded in a Google map on the homepage of www.view360.in; soon, he says, you'll be able to walk between them virtually. “I now do virtual tours full-time, and I couldn't be happier or more satisfied,” he says, smiling.