Roopkund: The Mysterious Skeleton Lake Of India

Stacks of human skeletal remains along the shores of Roopkund.
Stacks of human skeletal remains along the shores of Roopkund.

5. Description

A unique picturesque lake with a blood curdling mystery, the Roopkund Lake is a high altitude glacial lake in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Nestled amidst the spectacular snow-capped Himalayan peaks, at an elevation of 16,499 feet, at the foot of the Trishul Massif, the Roopkund Lake hosts a secret that you have to see to believe. The skeletal remains of hundreds of human beings, dating back to the 9th Century CE can be found scattered along the edge of the shallow lake. This signifies the occurrence of a horrific event in the past at this site that killed all these people centuries ago. The area in the immediate vicinity of the Roopkund Lake is completely uninhabited and only serves as a popular trekking destination.

4. History of the Lake

The Roopkund Lake, due to its remote location in the midst of the difficult terrain of the Himalayan mountains and the harsh cold climate prevailing in the region, was never known to be inhabited by humans. However, it could have acted as a passage for those travelling along the mountain route to their destinations lying across the mountain ranges, as evident by the discovery of human skeletal remains in this lake, dating as far back as 1,200 years ago. In 1942, a forest ranger from India, H. K. Madhwa, was credited with rediscovering the lake filled with bones, spurring a mass interest among researchers to explain the mystery behind the bones.

3. Mystery of the Bones

For long, scientists and historians have tried to establish the cause that killed so many humans in what appears to be a single death-dealing incident at the Roopkund Lake. Besides the human skeletons, several belongings of these dead people including leather slippers, iron spearheads, rings, and other artifacts were also discovered at the lake. When geneticists studied the DNA extracted from the dead remains to identify the origin of the dead, they found that the DNA belonged to two distinct groups of people, one taller and closely related family or tribe and the other shorter, local people who probably played the role of guides and porters on the journey. Several theories were proposed to explain the death of these individuals but after much study, the scientists hypothesized that since all the dead had similar small, deep cracks on their skull and shoulders, it is quite possible that their death was due to something falling directly from above which could only be a severe hailstorm with hail so large that without shelter, the people were left to die under the sky.

2. Tourism and Trekking

The Roopkund Lake is part of a famous trekking route through India. Trekkers visiting this lake need to be physically fit and mentally strong to accept the challenges on this arduous journey through the heart of the Himalayas. The Bedni Bugyal Alpine meadow forms a resting base for these trekkers on their way to the Roopkund Lake and is also the site of an autumnal religious festival. The Roopkund Lake offers the trekkers a stunning view of two of Himalaya’s most majestic peaks, the Trishul and Nanda Ghunti. After reaching the lake, the trekkers often continue further up the mountains to the "Coean of Stones" (the Shila Samundra), and finally on to Homkund, a high altitude pond.

1. Threats and Conservation

Though the Roopkund Lake does not face any immediate danger from human intervention due to its remoteness and low tourist footfall, it is not completely free of threats from future possibilities of developmental activities destroying its pristine habitat, peace, and clean environment. However, as of now, the Roopkund Lake continues to impress us with its ethereal beauty and mystify us with its stories of the dead.


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