All across India, elaborate subterranean temples are hidden in plain site. Constructed between the 2nd century and 4th century AD, these massive and ornate stepwells were built both for spiritual bathing and as a way to access water tables during monsoon season and drought seasons. Today, tourists hardly notice them on their way to the Taj Mahal or Humayun’s Tomb.
Chicago journalist Victoria Lauman discovered them 30 years ago while on a trip to India and has been documenting them ever since. In a piece for ArchDaily, she calls the temples the “endangered species” of the architectural world, threatening to fade into obscurity. Her gorgeous photos capture the deep octagonal subterranean pools of Rudabai Vav in Adalaj and the spiral-shaped Helical Vav in the historical city of Champaner. Some look to be in almost perfect condition, while others look like they’ve been used as garbage dumps.
Lauman hopes to draw attention to the crumbling stepwells, which she believes might be put back into use because of India’s ongoing water crisis. In the meantime, she gives us another reason to want to visit the bustling cities of India, if only to slip off into these forgotten temples of the underworld.