For over a decade, Sachin Neupane, a school teacher in Jhapa, located in eastern Nepal, pointed to black-and-white sketches in textbooks to describe the palaces and forts of the Himalayan country to his students. Neupane hadn’t been to most of these places himself, and his attempt to find high-quality images was unsuccessful. “I scoured the internet for visuals of historically, geographically, and culturally significant sites across Nepal but failed to find anything that I could share with the class,” Neupane told Rest of World

Frustrated that Nepal’s historical landmarks were not portrayed on the internet the way that their Western counterparts were, Neupane decided to take things into his own hands.

In 2015, armed with a DSLR camera, he vowed to return to the classroom only after he had enough videos and photos to show his students. He launched Purvi Blues, a YouTube channel where he posted videos from his travels. “I started traveling across the country to produce videos that would not only help students but all Nepali-speaking people around the world see the real Nepal,” Neupane said. In 2020, he quit his teaching job to dedicate all his time to vlogging.

Purvi Blues is now one of the most popular travel vlogs in Nepal, with around 540,000 subscribers. Neupane has so far visited 70 of the 77 districts in the country, traveling over 50,000 kilometers and capturing important sites across mountains, hills, and plains. The former school teacher, who now employs a team of two, has so far posted 222 videos. Narrated in simple Nepali without any English, Neupane hopes the videos will help second-generation Nepalis living abroad relate more to their ancestral homeland.

The success of his videos — the most-watched one has over 2.8 million views — has made the 34-year-old Neupane an internet celebrity in Nepal. “Whenever I am outside, especially in the cities, people approach me and talk to me as if they have known me personally for a long time,” Neupane said. “During the early days, it felt a bit strange, but these days, it feels normal, as I’ve taken it as an indicator of the success of the work I do.”

Rajendra Pokhrel, a resident of Arghakhanchi in western Nepal’s Lumbini province, who is a fan of Purvi Blues, believes Neupane’s content is helping the world discover more about the Himalayan country. “When I watch Purvi Blues, I feel as if I am traveling with Sachin and his team. In Nepal, we have only promoted a few places, such as Pokhara [a resort town known for its lakes and mountains] and Chitwan National Park [known for its tigers and one-horned rhinos] as tourist destinations, but the channel shows that there is much more to explore in the country.”

Neupane, who shares his contact details in his videos, is frequently contacted by his fans and followers, not just from Nepal, but from other parts of the world too. Among these are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees who spent decades in Nepal before being settled in countries like the U.S. and Australia; people from neighboring Indian towns, such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Guwahati; and even viewers based in Myanmar. “Most second- and third-generation people who have their roots in Nepal have only heard of their ancestral places in Nepal and want me to make videos from there,” Neupane said. “Some even want me to take them there.”

Sachin Neupane’s visit to Salyan Syalpani Village, Khalanga, Kupinde Lake and Khairabang Temple. Neupane has so far visited 70 of the 77 districts in the country.

Neupane’s main income stream for his videos is the money that YouTube pays for views, which is “just enough to organize the trips,” he says. “At the end of the day, we don’t have much savings.”

Sometimes, people invite the team to feature their towns and villages and offer them food and accommodation, “but we don’t ask for anything in return,” Neupane said. Though these trips cost less, at times they lead to misadventures. “A few months ago, we got a call from a village saying they have a huge cave there. But when we visited, there was no cave. We had to call off the whole trip without doing any work and that drained our limited resources,” he said.

“The easy availability of broadband internet and affordable smartphones with good-quality cameras has made it possible for anyone to shoot and upload videos on the internet,” said Deepak Adhikari, editor at South Asia Check, a fact-checking website based in Kathmandu. “This has led to the rise of influencers in Nepal, similar to those around the world, in genres such as food, travel, music, and comedy.” Purvi Blues constantly competes with these pop culture YouTubers.

“There are videos that target young people and use a language that attracts their attention. The creator makes sure that his face is seen throughout the video,” Neupane said. 

His channel also competes with creators who invest heavily in making videos that are cinematographically attractive and tell touching stories. “My videos fall in the middle,” said Neupane, who has shot most of his content traveling on non-sophisticated motorbikes, considered a common man’s means of transport in Nepal. “I try to make it more practical and useful for the audience by providing contact details of places I stay in and practical tips, such as roads to take or avoid,” he said.

It is not easy to make money from YouTube in Nepal, according to advocate and cyber law lecturer Rastra Bimochan Timalsena, who runs his own YouTube channel called Random Nepali. “We can’t deny that there is money to be made through social media in Nepal, but it depends on many factors,” Timalsena told Rest of World. According to his estimates, if a video gets around 50,000 views, the channel could earn around 5,000 rupees (about $40). This estimate accounts for 70% of viewership from Nepal and 30% from other countries, as content watched in markets such as the U.S or Australia gets better pay from YouTube, Timalsena said. Neupane agrees with this estimate.

YouTubers who can keep costs low — like those who make videos from home and edit themselves — can manage to pocket profits, Timalsena said. But for channels like Purvi Blues, which depend on traveling, the costs can eat into the margins.

Nepal’s rugged terrain and diversity in food, culture, and climate provide a wonderful setting for travel vlogs, but they come with a risk. “Last year, when we were shooting in Melamchi during the monsoon, we escaped death only by a few seconds,” Laxmi Prasad Dhungel, a member of Neupane’s team, told Rest of World. Debris from a landslide nearly flattened the vehicle that the team was traveling in during a return journey from Melamchi in Nepal’s Sindhupalchok district. Falling sick while on a long journey is another issue, as Nepal’s rural areas lack access to adequate health care. “There were times when we abandoned a shoot as we fell sick,” 38-year-old Dhungel said. “Sachin even fractured his leg and had to rest for two weeks when we were shooting in the eastern hills, back in April.”

When Neupane returns home to Dhulabari in Jhapa after his adventures, he often visits the school where he once taught. “I am still passionate about teaching, especially students in lower grades,” he said. “On a few occasions, I have seen teachers show students my videos to discuss Nepal’s history, geography, and culture. Such a sight reminds me that the work that I am doing is worthwhile, and I need to continue with it. It would take more than a lifetime to visit every corner of this diverse country, but I want to do what I do until I am capable of doing it.”