Imagine a country so dry that you have to build a 10-level stepped structure going down into the earth to get water. Such is India, where thousands of ingenious stepwells were built from the 2nd century AD through the 19th century, many financed by philanthropists, to whom the parched population were entirely grateful. This was before sophisticated technology allowed people to pump water from deep in the earth.

Many stepwells have been abandoned and are in disrepair since the introduction of modern waterworks, plumbing and village taps. Some have been destroyed. Because the water table is even lower in recent years, many are now dry. Victoria Lautman, a freelance journalist in Chicago, has been traveling around India documenting stepwells before more fall into dereliction are destroyed by neglect or outright demolition.

step-well-in-Ahmedabad-India

Featured image: A beautiful step well in Ahmedabad, India; like many others it has gone dry because the water table is even lower now than when it was constructed many years ago. (Image © by Victoria Lautman)

Some stepwells are simple, while some are of elaborate design, as can be seen in photos in an essay titled “India’s Forgotten Stepwells” that Lautman wrote for ArchDaily.

“I’ve seen roughly 120 now, in eight states, and I can’t seem to stop,” she wrote in an e-mail to Ancient Origins. “Their beauty and mystery continues to amaze me and I cannot bear the fact that so many are crumbling to dust, forgotten and decrepit. But I never intended to become a Stepwell Champion, I was just pursuing my interest at the time.

complex-stepwell-in-Jodhpur

A huge, complex stepwell in Jodhpur (Image © by Victoria Lautman)

“For the past four years I’ve come to India for about 2 1/2 months in the winter,” Lautman said in response to a question about how much time she’s spent chronicling India’s stepwells. “I don’t only go to hunt stepwells. … But out of that time I might spend several weeks—off and on—specifically looking for wells in various locales, often tied into other projects I’m sniffing out. So it’s hard to put a fine point on it. But I’d say I’ve spent A LOT of time doing this!”

She wrote on ArchDaily that stepwells were built because the climate in India fluctuated…………

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