The window next to my working space overlooks a chikoo tree favoured by noisy bulbuls and babblers. The bedroom window overlooks the neighbour’s backyard, which has three mango trees, a jackfruit tree and a gooseberry tree that are visited by soulful Asian koels, mynahs and the occasional drongo or kite. But these are fleeting visitors, and for much of the day, these views in Bangalore, India, are boring. The same cannot be said for the everyday views to be found at WindowSwap. The addictive website invites the viewer to gaze out through the curtains from somewhere else in the world. If you do not press a button to hurry the process along, after about 10 minutes, the view switches to another person’s window. There is no indication of what is coming; the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge segues into a clutch of clucking hens in a garden in Hawaii, followed by Swiss peaks and meadows, which give way to a red double-decker bus sweeping past a London window, and then a striking sunset silhouetting Istanbul’s skyline. A crowdsourced project, WindowSwap is the brainchild of Singapore-based couple Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam. “The lockdown was strict and we felt cooped up in the one-room apartment which doesn’t have great views,” says Balasubramaniam. “When we saw a friend’s Instagram post of his view of Barcelona, we wished we could swap places. That’s how the idea was born.” Virtual reality flights are taking off – with all the fun and none of the discomfort The couple asked friends from across the world to send them videos of views from their windows, says Ranjit. “We then sought the help of a developer and put it together in two weeks.” After the June 5 launch, people stumbled upon the site and more views trickled in. Soon the couple had to juggle their day jobs as advertising professionals with the running of the site. By mid-July, the trickle had turned into a deluge as WindowSwap was shared and reshared on social media. “We have 115 views on the site now but there are over 2,000 videos waiting to be seen. We get over 150 submissions a day,” Ranjit says. Those submissions have come from more than 100 countries – including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ghana – and from national capital cities as well as obscure villages. Traffic, too, has grown; from a few hundred initially, the site now clocks 80,000 visitors a day on average, peaking at 300,000 visits one day recently. “I enjoy it because this is such an interesting but simple idea,” says Mariia Matula, who works in a bank in Bratislava, Slovakia. “It is a new way of travelling, but you actually can imagine how the locals live, what they see every day from their windows; it feels very authentic. Plus, it gives me the effect of surprise, as I don’t know where the next window will be, what part of the world, what community.” Helping to make the views compelling are background noises included on the clips: the ebb and flow of traffic, muted conversations, lilting music, gurgling water, chirping birds, and gently falling rain. “Ambient sound makes you feel like you are part of the view,” says Balasubramaniam. Also drawing the viewer in are chance encounters with the window owners’ pets: a couple of happy and enthusiastic dogs or a nonchalant black cat lording it over the sill. And then there’s the whimsical: a life-size storm trooper suit standing guard in front of a barbecue grill in Bangkok. “WindowSwap has been one of the minuscule blessings I discovered recently that allows us to share the collective anxiety we experience during this global pandemic,” says Frankfurt-based freelance journalist Prathap Nair. At a time when travel is restricted it is a beautiful way to experience different parts of the world Bangalore-based IT consultant, Anil N “From the mad dance of coconut palms in Panama to the stillness of a blood-red bottle brush bush outside a window in Netherlands, I have been soothed by numerous vignettes from across the world. Admittedly it’s another exercise in distraction but I feel it’s a much needed one.” Ranjit and Balasubramaniam are asking for more submissions, preferably clips of about 10 minutes long (although they accept ones that are shorter). “We really wanted to go old school with this, to let it be calming and allow the visitor to have a meaningful experience of the view with its ambient sounds. We wanted it to be the opposite of TikTok,” says Balasubramaniam. Ten minutes is the “perfect” duration, says Bangalore-based IT consultant Anil N, who often takes a break to gaze at a view. “At a time when travel is restricted it is a beautiful way to experience different parts of the world.” Combining the sights and sounds of somewhere else is also what makes the website Drive & Listen popular. In this case, viewers pick a city and watch through the windscreen as a car negotiates its streets, a local radio station playing as the soundtrack. The streets of Johannesburg, Madrid, Singapore or Wuhan can look mundane, but that is the point. Both sites offer a window onto other worlds for those being gnawed at by wanderlust or who take comfort in knowing life goes on as usual elsewhere.