Travel

Globetrotting, with a mouse in hand: how virtual tours are bringing the world to your doorstep

Around the world in 80 clicks: The Louvre Museum lets you manoeuvre through its halls and corridors via a website called youvisit.com

Around the world in 80 clicks: The Louvre Museum lets you manoeuvre through its halls and corridors via a website called youvisit.com  

Under lockdown with nowhere to go? Virtual tours bring the world to your desktop. Now, watch an opera in your pyjamas and trail a whale from the comfort of your couch

I have been travelling across the world all day, despite the lockdown.

It’s a muggy day at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. In order to cool off, I hop onto the Splash Mountain Ride at Disneyland, California. Then, inspired by Dumbledore and Harry Potter, I head to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland for a breathtaking view of the grey sea below and the dramatically jagged crags around.

Currently, I am in Machu Picchu looking at three alpacas. Oh, wait! There is one more behind me. It is a glorious day at Huayna Picchu — the highest viewing point — where fluffy silver clouds snugly drape themselves around the heads of the mountains. Usually, to trek up to this point, one needs to be among the first 400 visitors in line on any given day. Yet, here I am, eating chips in my ragged pyjamas, all set to head to the next destination: the Louvre Museum, Paris. And I shall reach in five seconds or less, depending on my Internet connectivity.

As real as it gets

Thanks to the concept of virtual tours, destinations that hitherto seemed difficult to get to are available at one’s fingertips. While some were already available on Google (or via their respective websites), the recent lockdown triggered by COVID-19 has made many more landmarks, museums, galleries and shows navigable, or accessible, online.

The Louvre, for example, lets you manoeuvre through its halls and corridors via a website called youvisit.com, which takes you through sections including Grande Gallery, Napoleon’s ornate apartment and Roman Antiquities.

Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, London’s British Museum, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery among others offer similar facilities.

Given that the lockdown in cities has shuttered attractions, Anabeth Guthrie, chief of communications, National Gallery of Art, Washington, says, “We’ve seen an incredible response to our social media gallery tours (that began following the closure on March 14) with thousands of new followers across our channels following along.”

In addition to this, more than 42,000 works from the Gallery’s collection are also viewable on the Google Arts & Culture platform. “Each day, our social media channels (@ngadc on Twitter/Instagram and @NationalGalleryofArt on Facebook) feature one gallery and take a deep dive into the works of art it includes: featuring commentaries by curators, closelook at details, and links to resources where followers can learn more,” she adds. The social media tours will cover all parts of the East and West Buildings as well as the Sculpture Garden.

So, which are the most popular works on display? “We opened ‘Degas at the Opera’ before the temporary closure. It was quite popular in just a few short weeks. From the permanent collection, our most popular works of art include ‘Multiverse’ by Leo Villareal and ‘Ginevra de’Benci’ by Leonardo da Vinci (the only painting by da Vinci in the Americas),” says Guthrie. For something more quirky, check out Las Vegas’ The Neon Museum, which features cheerfully gaudy signs rescued from old motels and casinos, as well as narrates their stories via its free app. It also has a section called ‘Lost Vegas: Tim Burton’ that gives a glimpse into art created by the iconic filmmaker. Think bubble-like helmet-sporting aliens from Mars Attacks! and other phantasmagorical creatures inspired from Burton’smovies.

Being one with Nature

To bring the outdoors to those confined within the walls of their homes, a number of national parks have also hopped onto the virtual bandwagon. Sure, strap on your Fitbits if you like. Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, Bryce Canyon, Utah, Dry Tortugas, Florida, are all available via Google Arts & Culture. And if you opt for the Hawai‘i Volcanoes tour, I suggest you hold on tight to your armchair because it involves taking a flight over the seething mass of fire, and you get to witness the Nahuku Lava Tube.

Globetrotting, with a mouse in hand: how virtual tours are bringing the world to your doorstep

If that makes you nervous, you can always seek refuge in upbeat videos from zoos and aquariums currently offering live footage of their properties. Meet polar bear cubs Akiak and Sura on explore.org. These twins can keep you entertained non-stop as they laze, roll, and go about their day along with their mother Freedom and grandmother Huggies at Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen, The Netherlands. You can also see polar bears from Canada and Denmark. “Polar Bears International was one of the first cameras we installed and live-streamed from Churchill, Canada,” says Emily Berlin of Explore. The organisation was started in 2004 by Charles Annenberg Weingarten with the idea of connecting people to the natural world in the purest way possible: by being an observer as life unfolds. “Anyone around the world can log on to the website, watch the live cams, comment on the chat boards and take snapshots,” she adds.

Explore currently has 173 cameras set up at diverse locations relaying the lives of animals and birds. Gawk at cuddly pandas from Wolong Valley in China, or watch orcas gracefully make their way through Canada’s Blackney Pass. In Katmai, Alaska, the brown bear cameras are among the most popular. “They are placed in a remote location with incredible views of Brooks Falls where brown bears gather every summer as they come out from hibernation looking for salmon. Viewers can watch several bears fishing in the river at a given time, mothers with cubs playing down river and salmon trying to jump upstream to spawn. There’s really nothing like it, and it provides viewers with the increasingly rare opportunity to witness a robust, healthy ecosystem,” says Berlin. Coming soon, she adds, is a wolf sanctuary in northern Minnesota.

Globetrotting, with a mouse in hand: how virtual tours are bringing the world to your doorstep

Nature is a powerful medicine and our viewers have used the streams to unwind and connect to something bigger than themselves, states Berlin, adding, “We have seen a 40% increase in viewership in the past week and are excited to continue to connect people around the world to Nature during these uncertain times.”

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 7:02:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/globetrotting-with-a-mouse-in-hand-how-virtual-tours-are-bringing-the-world-to-your-doorstep/article31233353.ece

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