China is a land of abundant mysteries. Starting from temples and museums to ancient villages tracing history as far as 2,000-2,500 years ago. The Longyou Caves located in the village of Shiyan Beicun in Zhejiang Province is known as the ‘ninth wonder of the ancient world’ in China. This underground world of still-enduring mysteries that shroud it in further darkness, so much so that it was left undiscovered for millennia, till a local decided to test the truth behind the legend. By Shubhanjana Das

The mystery of the Longyou Caves started when stories about the bottomless ponds became folklore in the region. The locals used fresh water from the ‘bottomless’ water holes in the village. This continued till June, 1992 when a man named, Wu Anai, decided to break the myth. He used a hydraulic pump for emptying the pond and after 17 days of pumping uncovered the truth. Twenty-four grottoes have been discovered so far in the 0.38 square km area of the underground caves, which are mostly artificial argillaceous siltstone of Cretaceous age. The entire excavation involved almost a million cubic meters of stone and the distribution pattern is so that seven grottoes among the 24 grottoes (three groups of eight) resemble that of the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

If these caves were dug by hand, it would have been an enormous project in terms of planning, labour and economics. If we look at the plan of the advanced architectural science used to design the blue print of these caves, the access through a vertical shaft, or portal, with steps leading downwards and a sloped ceiling upheld with rock pillars indicate that this was not the work of primitive people. Despite all this, there seem to be no history or information on their construction, purpose and the mastermind behind.

These massive, spacious caves equating to 300,000 sq. metres look like an underground palace of a king. But, that isn’t the only hypothesis that has surfaced after years of extensive research by scholars, historians and archaeologists. Claims of it being a station for troops for a secret revenge war by an emperor of the Wuyue Dynasty to a grave site for emperors and even a site left behind by aliens!

We may not know the real history behind this monumental construction of stupendous hand-dug caves, but we do know how to get there. You can take the high-speed train from Hangzhou East Railway Station to Longyou Station (about one hour), then take a taxi or public bus to reach the Longyou Grottoes. There are also regular buses from the Longyou station to the Grottoes.

Related: Great Wall Of China’s Most Popular Section Gets A Visitors Cap