You and I may mainly use Google Earth for pointless entertainment, peering into grainy photos of cities and natural formations around the world just for fun. But for Saroo Brierley, it was serious business. He successfully used Google Earth to track down the village of the family he had been separated from for 25 years.
Mr Brierley, at the age of five, was begging at a train station in west India with his older brother.
He became lost and boarded a train home. The train was going in the wrong direction. He fell asleep and woke up 10 hours later on the other side of the country.
For a month, he tried to find his way back, almost drowning in the River Ganges and nearly being abducted by a man who intended to sell him as a slave.
He eventually was declared a lost child and placed in an orphanage before being adopted by Tasmanian parents. Mr Brierley now helps run their family industrial supplies business, Brierley Hose and Handling.
Mr Brierley said he never forgot where he came from and, three weeks ago, he returned to India find his family.
“I kept in my head the images of the town I grew up in, the streets I used to wander and the faces of my family, I treasured those memories,” he said.
The memories helped him track down his family. For the past 10 years, Mr Brierley has scrolled the internet for clues.
“Using Google Earth, I spent so many hours zooming in and out looking for something I recognised,” he said.
He remembered the Khandwa train station and surrounding area, which he eventually found on Google Earth.
He then joined a Facebook group for his home town Ganesh Talai and managed to piece together the details by emailing members of the group. He booked his plane ticket and went to the town, scouring streets until he found his family.
Mr Brierley said his mother told him of how they had searched endlessly for him after he went missing and saw fortune-tellers who told them they would one day be reunited.
The older brother who accompanied Mr Brierley on the train ride was found dead on railway tracks.
Mr Brierley said sometimes when he thought about his life he was amazed by everything that had happened.
“To this day, I still can’t believe I managed to find my family, considering India’s population size and how young I was when I lost them,” he said.
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