India is a land of many marvels. The country is known for its pristine architecture which is unparalleled in design, scale, and form. The Taj Mahal is one example, but there are several other less known gems scattered throughout the country.

To solve the water crisis in the arid months of the year, the Indian urban planners developed a distinct form of subterranean water resource and storage systems as early as the third century BC. Known as “stepwell,” these man-made stepped chasm plunged six stories underground and are full of ornate stone columns and sculpture that seemed to disappear into murky shadows.

Victoria Lautman has spent four years studying these unique subterranean edifices. “It was thrilling, subversive, and disorienting to be staring down into architecture rather than looking up at it. I’d never experienced anything like it,” she writes about these marvels.

The purpose of these stepwells was to ensure water 24/7, all year long. “In India’s dry desert states, accessing groundwater might mean digging a hole nine stories deep, and the only way to reach the buried water was by long stepped corridors. When torrential monsoon rains eventually moved in for weeks or months, the water table rose significantly and many of the steps – if not all – would submerge, gradually revealing themselves again as the water level subsided,” she clarifies.

Take a look at some of the best stepwells (“vav” and “baoli” as they are locally called) below, and make sure to put them on your itineraries when you’re in India next time. Do vote for your favorite.

#1 Chand Baori, Abhaneri, Rajasthan ( 9th – 10th c.)

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#2 Dada Harir Vav, Ahmedabad, Gujarat (1499)

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#3 Neemrana Baoli, Neemrana, Rajasthan (1570)

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#4 Anonymous Baoli, Narnaul, Haryana

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#5 Raniji ki Baoli, Bundi, Rajasthan (1699)

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#6 Rudabai Vav, Adalaj, Gujarat (1499)

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#7 Agrasen ki Baoli, Delhi (14th c.)

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#8 Mukundpura Baoli, Narnaul

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#9 Mahila Bag Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

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#10 Helical Vav, Champaner, Gujarat (15th c.)

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#11 Ujala Baoli, Mandu, Madhya Pradesh (late 15th c.)

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#12 Rajon ki Baoli, Delhi (1506)

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#13 Ratala Vav, Rampura, Gujarat (15th c.)

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#14 Assi Khamba Baoli, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh (16th)

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#15 Rajon ki Baoli, Delhi (1506)

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#16 Indaravali Baoli, Fatehpur Sikri, Rajasthan (16th c.)

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#17 Mirza Alijan Baoli, Narnaul, Haryana

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#18 Bhamaria Vav, Mehmedabad, Gujarat (c 1500)

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#19 Panna Meena Kund, Jaipur, Rajasthan (16th c.)

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