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Journalist Victoria Lautman Spent Four Years Documenting India’s Crumbling Subterranean Stepwells Before They Disappear

Tucked away on quiet streets far from the hustle and bustle of popular tourist attractions, in between the spectacular palaces, temples, and tombs that appear on the covers of guidebooks, an entire category of Indian architecture has faded into obscurity and historical obsolescence. Called stepwells, these centuries-old structures consist of deep wells that can be accessed via staircases plunging several stories underground. The magnificent edifices, which Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman has spent four years photographing at 120 sites around India, were born of necessity between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. as a way to guarantee a steady water supply in a primarily arid climate interrupted by torrential monsoons for a few weeks each year.

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