Residents of Himalayan communities with a history of powerful earthquakes maintain a millennia-old building style.

A deadly earthquake struck Himachal Pradesh, an Indian state located in the western Himalayas, in 1905. Even what appeared to be solid concrete structures fell like houses of cards. Only structures that were constructed using the conventional, centuries-old technique known as kath kuni in the Himalayas were discovered. Naggar Castle, built more than 500 years ago as the home of the region’s powerful Kullu rulers, survived that catastrophe untouched. Officers from the Geological Survey of India were surprised that the castle and other kath kuni residences within the quake’s radius did not sustain any seismic damage. Naggar Castle is now a hotel and a well-liked tourist attraction. Its rustic walls, which are constructed of flat-stacked grey stones and earth-toned wood planks, are proof that some things never go out of style.

Through the ages, the construction technique has been passed down. The practice is declining, though, as concrete homes with flat roofs have become more common in many places. Since the raw materials for kath kuni have become harder to locate and more expensive, many individuals are making desperate attempts to protect their identity by covering their concrete homes with stone tiles and wood-finish wallpaper.