By: Vibhu Airan
Most of us love traveling, but we end up going to places that are ubiquitous in nature.
We don’t live in a place that hasn’t been built in the last decade or two. The new term popping out these days for the love of adventurers is “urbex” (urban exploration). It’s kind of like being a modern-day Indiana Jones; the only difference is that you don’t have to fight the Nazis and are also not looking for the holy grail (although the antiques seem to be a pretty good bonus).
Urban exploration sounds like being a superhero in the movies: searching for hidden treasures in abandoned buildings and forgotten areas while eluding potential danger and the long arm of the law. It is almost like an adrenaline-fused game of hide and seek, but you’re playing against the security guards and boarded-up entrances instead of your annoying cousins and friends. These audacious explorers are drawn to the mystery and intrigue of the ‘undiscovered’ world of dilapidated buildings and forgotten places, and they are often driven by the motivation or urge to dig up disappeared histories, seek out the aesthetic in decay, and challenge themselves by exploring the unknown.
To what end, though? Why risk life and limb just to explore an old, dusty building? Well, for starters, it’s freaking cool. Another crazy thing that attracts Gen-Z is the aesthetic charm and vintage vibe that surrounds such establishments. A certain beauty in decay—the juxtaposition of old and new is what draws people in. Plus, there’s the thrill of the hunt: finding that perfect location that’s been tucked away for years, just eagerly waiting for you to discover it.
Urban exploration is a hobby that can go hand in hand with photography. It’s very common for explorers to document their experience; it’s also valid because there are ties between important historic events that use images to enhance the whole episode. Alternatively, some natural decay can create some gloriously photogenic scenes.
The simple definition given by an urban explorer is: “Urban exploration is the romance of what is gone and what can be remembered; for most urbexers, the romance begins with abandoned railway stations, then slowly moves to abandoned architecture and dilapidated buildings where no one goes.”
Where to find these areas or how to usually find these places is the biggest mystery (ironically). Hence, to begin with, all you need to do is know what you’re searching for. By starting with bonded structures, abandoned buildings, and ancient drainage tunnels, you’ll either stumble onto something or be inspired by the urbex explorers’ adventures. In a country like India, one of the huge pros of having a rich history is that finding these places isn’t too difficult because their tales have long since vanished and can now have a chance to regain their heritage.
Being a very vague topic, there are a lot of stories that haven’t been talked about. To give an example, the catacombs of Paris are a very renowned place for urban explorers, as they are both away from the so-called love capital but not remote. It is well-known for individuals who enjoy stepping out from the common areas to explore the dark and mysterious underground tunnels. As most of the network in the tunnels is off-limits to the public, over the years, there have been several spellbinding exploration stories in the catacombs. In 2004, the “Untergunther,” a group of urban explorers, spent months secretly renovating a hidden chamber in the catacombs, complete with a library, cinema, and restaurant. Touring the catacombs, on the other hand, isn’t really a safe move. The tunnels are dark, humid, and frequently unstable, with the possibility of collapsing or flooding.
As you start exploring, you will be privy to the magic of Mother Earth, as she seizes her long-lost land so beautifully by adorning it with vegetation and flowers around every corner, making it pretty again on her own terms. This is how you can see the force of the ruler of this great land. It brings back the beauty of the abandoned building, which was lost a long time ago.
The amount of thrill goes hand in hand with the danger, so there are some rules you need to keep in mind. First of all, exploring abandoned buildings is risky and ought to be done carefully; always have your “partner in crime” accompany you. This way, if anything should happen to you, you have someone who can give you a hand in an emergency. With that being said, it’s probably best to not go in large groups as it will make you more obvious, which is the last thing you want. Secondly, take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints, as you should respect the history and integrity of the building that you’re exploring so that future travelers can enjoy the site as well. And also try to never break anything to enter, as the building can be part of its history. The next thing to remember is to have fun while also being safe. This should be your utmost responsibility, as no matter how much fun you have, if you are not safe, none of it matters.
There is something in urban exploration for everyone, whether you are drawn to adventure, history, or a sense of community. It’s important to respect the areas you explore and to value your security always. After all, even the most daring explorers need to come back home safely.