Explore India and one aspect that you are sure to notice is its engineering prowess. Be it the Sun Temple at Konark, or the Ajanta and Ellora caves, and the multitude of forts dotting every state, every piece of ancient architecture establishes even more firmly the scientific thinking of the people of the times.

But going beyond all these engineering marvels is one crescent shaped underground quarters in the Chandravalli Caves. Nestled between the three hills of Chitradurga, Kirubanakallu and Cholagudda, a visitor here is so bewitched by the beauty of the Chandravalli Lake that you hardly ever notice a tiny entrance in the rocks that opens up a maze of mystery, wonder and amazement.

The steep climb up the hillock adjoining the Chandravalli Lake leads you to what looks like something common in the ancient fort city of Chitradurga in Karnataka – a cave temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, and a resting ground made of solid granite pillars holding up a rocky roof above a granite platform. And then there is that quiet beckoning call that comes from a dark hole where even the faintest of light fears to enter. One, for sure, you need a bright torch and an informed guide who can walk you through this maze in the belly of the earth.

Delving 80 feet underground, engineers from pre-historic times of the Iron Age built a whole social system. From a gurukul to a full-fledged bathing area, a dining room, an anteroom and prison cells, a temple, a treasury – everything was built into solid rock through a confusing maze that only the familiar could navigate through. The bid to keep intruders at bay begins from the front door.

I’ve always wondered why many of the steps leading up to many ancient structures were uneven. At Chandravalli, while we descended the stairs in the darkness, I understood this was a method to check intrusions. Those familiar with the structure knew which steps were deep, and which were shallow; however, intruders would lose their foothold for sure, thus alerting guards.

The first level of the caves comes across as a gururkul. Replete with a raised platform for the teacher to sit on while instructing students, the engineers of those pre-historic times ensured there was no lack of comfort. The seating accompanies a small footstool and a secret passageway for the guru to exit from in case of an emergency. A strategic placement of lamp holders ensured that once lit, the lamps threw their light across the room with brilliance.