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Feature: Digital storytelling to help boost Nepal's tourism industry

by Bibbi Abruzzini

KATHMANDU, May 28 (Xinhua) -- When Jay Poudyal began photographing strangers on the streets of Nepal eight months ago, he never thought that he would be able to attract thousands of followers from across the globe and help boost the country's tourism industry.

"I am not trying to make an impact. That is not my job. But people like the simplicity and the micro dimension of the stories I share with them," Poudyal, the man behind the Stories of Nepal, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

His website, that kick-started in October last year, is trying to showcase the real pulse of Nepal's cities and villages through the unadulterated stories of ordinary people.

In creating his web page, Poudyal drew inspiration from Humans of New York (HONY), an exhaustive catalogue of the Big Apple's inhabitants, featuring photos and vignettes about their daily lives for audiences around the world.

"I believe we need to focus on individuals, on what the neighbor next door is doing for the community, or the humdrum story of a newsboy. Ordinary people from all walks of life have fascinating stories to tell and this is what I am focusing on now, " Poudyal said.

The range of photos displayed on the website catalogues the real image of Nepal which is too often obfuscated and reduced to images of poverty and political infighting in the Himalayan nation.

"Stories of Nepal" is a window to the country's unique charm and the vibrancy of its people, not to mention the picturesque hills and valleys and villages that dot the countryside. Surfing the website is definitely a good way of preparing oneself for a trip to this South Asian nation.

"I want to take pictures of Nepali people, their wrinkles, the expression of their eyes and their smiles. And because the pictures cannot complete the job, I add short interviews to my shots," the 34-year-old photographer explained.

Through the caption of his photos, the ordinary farmers and urban dweller can share their stories with the prospective tourists or researchers interested in Nepal.

One of Poudyal's first accounts uploaded in his website was about Santosh Magar who sells tea in front of his house and Golu Thakurhis, his barber. The photos of these people that carry short description of their trade certainly give total strangers some idea of life in Nepal among ordinary people.

"I always wanted to share stories about my country with my children and grandchildren and to others who are interested. Stories of Nepal is turning my vision into reality," Poudyal said.

The web platform represents an innovative way of storytelling and an alternative to traditional media. Poudyal is among the first ones in Nepal to use the Internet in telling Nepal's stories.

To take a shot and make people share their personal stories, Poudyal usually starts with small talks. Sometimes he tells the subject about his concept and they will start a conversation.

"Everyone loves to tell stories. The difficult part is getting people to share their own," Sujuta, who regularly visits the social media page of Stories of Nepal, told Xinhua.

Poudyal's social media page has drawn an increasing number of followers from across the globe. It has now some 40,000 followers and the number is increasing every day.

After Stories of Nepal, Poudyal said that he experienced a big emotional shift, he currently appreciates the simple and uncomplicated lives of his countrymen.

"I have started appreciating the small things in life. People share their stories with me honestly and I am humbled by their reaction," Poudyal said.

Poudyal's next goal is to travel to all of Nepal's 75 districts and publish a coffee table book.

Digital storytelling, as pioneered by Poudyal, is definitely putting Nepal on the global tourism map and without the government spending money for the promotional campaign.

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