Holidays are as much about getting away from it all as about seeing a new place. And nothing says it better than curling up deep within the recesses of Mother Earth, returning to the warmth of a womb. And no, you don’t have to be a Hobbit to do that. Smriti Lamech brings you some trippy troglodyte experiences from across the world.
#1 The Cave City of Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia seems to have the lion’s share of the world’s fascinating sights. From volcano formations, to rock cones, the landscape is breathtaking. But it’s the underground cities (the biggest of which is Derinkuyu) that truly take your breath away. Winding paths, some barely high enough to crawl through, these were built as temporary escapes in times of war and attack through Hittite, Roman and Byzantine periods.
More than 100 feet below ground level they are built in storeys like a modern high rise apartment with waste chutes, chimney chutes, wine cellars, abbeys, wells and even—hold your breath—communication chutes like a modern day intercom for people on different levels!
#2 Edinburgh’s Dens of vice, Scotland
Full of tales of witches’ persecution and body snatching before the grave had even settled, Edinburgh is best taken in by the strong at heart. And the Edinburgh Vaults even more so.
Built within the South Bridge in the mid-1700s, the poorly constructed vaults were meant for storage and workshops, affording no circulation, no sunlight and no sanitation. This of course means they were joyless and inhospitable. Leakages, flooding and poor conditions forced merchants to abandon them and they were soon taken over by the poor, finally degenerating into hubs of vice. These dens of iniquity are now hot tour circuits and you can check out haunted vaults and torture chambers among others.
#3 A Hidden City under Seattle, Washington, USA
Paradoxically, Seattle’s Underground is the result of destruction, not construction. The entire city lay much lower than present day Seattle does today and an accidental fire in the cabinet maker’s workshop spread 31 blocks, leading to the Great Seattle Fire. In a grand gesture the city authorities just built over the old burnt out remains of the city, this time in brick and mortar. It is this underground labyrinth of lanes and rooms that lives on. Local, Bill Speidel who realised the value that lay in telling this tale of destruction and resurrection, began guided walking tours that to this day are the one of the city’s foremost tourist attractions. There is also a must-take adult tour taking you past the spots where opium dens and brothels once flourished. Yes of course, like all other deep, damp places, this one too had its era of shady business.
#4 Miner’s Pads at Coober Pedy, Australia
Coober Pedy is famous for its dug outs, or underground homes, built to protect people from the scorching desert heat. Mining for opals lead to a lot of underground caves which were eventually used as accommodation. Cool, dark and airy, they are also more humid than the dry, debilitating heat above ground. Most of the dugouts have been converted into hotel accommodations that promise you the best sleep you’ve had in a while. For the really enthusiastic, there is also an underground campground.
#5 Art In A Salt Mine, Wieliczka, Poland
378 steps down and you’ll find yourself in something of an art gallery—only, everything is made out of salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mines haven’t been a tourist attraction for very long, because until 1996 they were still commercially functional. But over the years miners carved sculptures out of the salt and more recently artists took to the place with a vengeance, giving you a veritable feast, from a statue of Pope John Paul II to The Last Supper. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also holds a number of awe inspiring chapels; constantly working in damp conditions and endangered situations, the miners would pray before beginning their day at work. Be sure to have lunch at the Miner’s Tavern. The mines also house a wellness complex and a beautiful and mysterious underground lake.
#6 Xi’an’s Underground Army, China
For centuries people have been buried alongside what they might need in the afterlife. But Emperor Qinshihuang went a step further and had an entire army of 8000 life-sized terracotta soldiers to guard him in his afterlife, making one wonder exactly what he’d done during his lifetime to require such protection. Chariots, acrobats, officials and musicians bring up the rear. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the soldiers were crushed by the collapse of a wall and have been painstakingly reconstructed to shine with their original luster.
#7 The Left-Leaning, Pathet Lao Caves, Laos
The beautiful valley of Vieng Xai in Northeast Laos was the headquarters of the Pathet Lao Communist revolutionaries. The limestone hills and cliffs were ridden with caves that they further enlarged, from where they waged a methodical war. Shops, factories, banks, printing presses and even hospitals existed inside the 800 caves found. They even had libraries and reception rooms with the cave of the chief being 500 feet up and accessible only by a rope. Steps were added much later. In use since the 1950s, they had Russian oxygen pumps installed for fresh air making it comfortable enough for people to live inside for up to 9 years. A few of the caves are open and showcase a garden and theatre. The experience is even more realistic because of the unexploded bombs that still litter the countryside, the cause of many lost lives each year.
#8 The AirRaid Shelters Of Almeria, Spain
The Almeria shelters are a series of galleries that were built between 1937 and 1939 by architect Guillermo Langle during the Spanish Civil War. Primarily constructed to protect the citizens from Nazi bombings, the shelters could accommodate the 40,000 residents of Almeria and were 4.5 kms long. There were public entries from the streets and private ones from the homes of the wealthy and important citizens. Well connected and ventilated, the shelters even had a hospital to treat war injuries. The shelter houses a museum, which recreates the period atmosphere through documentaries, graphic displays, first-hand accounts, original toys, instruments and equipment, lights and sound effects.
#9 The Double Decker City Of Montreal, Canada
Jocularly called the double decker city or indoor city, Montreal has as vibrant a life underground as overground.Easily accessible, a variety of complexes exist underground, including shopping malls, apartment buildings, hotels, condominiums, banks, offices, museums, universities, seven metro stations, two commuter train stations, a regional bus terminal and the Bell Centre amphitheatre and arena.
Named RESO from the French réseau meaning network, the 32 km of tunnels that lead out are integrated so well that you won’t realise when you enter. Spread across 19 miles, this is the largest underground complex in the world and keeps the city warm and active through the worst of their harsh winters.
Smriti Lamech likes to write, garden and potter around.
She also likes to pack up her kids and drag them around the country, sometimes following a Gangetic Dolphin, at other times a rainbow.
Smriti has written for Cosmopolitan, Femina, Outlook, Deccan Chronicle, Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Delhi and IndiWo.
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Canada is an underrated country often forgotten by travellers when planning their world trip. Nevertheless, I thought me and my hefty back-pack would give it a gamble and without a doubt it paid off. There was no denying Canada’s wonderful, diverse landscape in which I had the privilege to travel across, complete with some of [...]