India is home to many of the world's most stunning sights, but one of the country's most beautiful—and historic—classification of architecture is slowly slipping into ambiguity. India's subterranean stepwells are just as rich in history as they are in appearance. Once used to access water in extremely dry regions that only saw rain during monsoon season in the 2nd and 4th centuries, there were once thousands of these structures. Now, many of these stepwells have completely been forgotten more often used as landfills than grounds for exploring.
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All bad news aside, there are a few wells that continue to be maintained and rejuvenated for tourism purposes. Victoria Lautman, a Chicago-based journalist, set out to document the ones we're set to lose forever to erosion and a natural drop in India's water table. Thirty years ago, Lautman set out on her first trip to India and stumbled across the stepwells, inspiring years of her upcoming work. She's traveled across seven Indian states to explore 120 stepwells. You can check out more from her impressive collection of photos on her website, but here's a peek at the ancient architecture she documented:
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.