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Roopkund: Glacial Lake of Skeleton


A good mystery is loved by everyone but for some, unraveling mystery is everything. Roopkund lake is one of the most beguile and enthralling exemplar of mysterious places getting unraveled. The Roopkund lake cuddles in the isolated wombs of the majestic Himalayas at a height of 5029 meters above sea level. This lake is also popularly known as Skeleton Lake. The lake is nestled in a valley with steep sides and no one can inhabit in this area, even passing through the area can prove fatal for normal human beings. Roopkund has an inscrutability and vagueness that has decepted multiple generations of fortune tellers.

Roopkund lake is a mystery in itself. This frozen lake which glorifies the beauty of the Himalayas with a mystery is really hard to decipher. Apart from this there is a lot to this side of the story. The Roopkund lake has a lot of traditional myths intact in it and the Pandora's box could only be opened once you visit it.

For long months this shallow lake is frozen. It is beautiful but there is also some menacing feel in this nearly lifeless place. In the summer, as the Sun melts the ice around the lake, there opens dreadful sight - bones and skulls of people and horses lying around the lake.

It is not fully clear whether local people knew about these in earlier times or not - but first written reports appear in 1898. In 1942, a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery. Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake's edges. Something horrible had happened here.

The instantaneous assumption (it being war time) was that these were the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died of exposure while sneaking through India. The British government, anxious of a Japanese land invasion, sent a team of investigators to determine if this was true. However upon examination they realized these bones were not from Japanese soldiers—they weren't fresh enough.

It was evident that the bones were quite old indeed. Low temperature, rarified and clean air helped to preserve the bodies of deceased better than it would happen elsewhere. Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 200 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.

Through carbon dating tests, it has been experimentally estimated that these skeletons belong to anytime between 12th and 15th century. It is primarily believed that the deaths were caused by some kind of natural disaster like a blizzard, landslide or any bacterial disease. However, this topic still remains controversial among the residents, anthropologists and paleontologists of modern times.

More recently in 2004, a team of European and Indian scientists sent by The National Geographic Channel visited Roopkund to carry on with the probe. Their research has unearthed interesting hints and information. Part of their findings includes anthropological treasures like well-preserved corpses, jewelry, bones and skulls belonging to the dead. Further analysis shows that there were rather diverse people. DNA analysis hints at specific mutations observed in people living in Maharashtra (at Roopkund were found family members of Kokanastha Bramins) as well as few local people. There were found children, women. Analysis shows that these people for weeks were walking without proper food.

All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?


Local legends have the following explanation

A king of Kannauj (ancient land south from Gharval Himalaya) Jasdhawal was on an important pilgrimage to praise the Goddess Nanda Devi. Somehow he disregarded advice of religious counsellors and behaved in an arrogant way.

King took all his entourage with him including numerous dancer girls, musicians, servants. Also his pregnant wife was with him. As they reached Roopkund lake, queen delivered a child in a cave near the lake (Wondermondo: interesting - could it serve as a shelter for few people during the hailstorm?). Goddess Nanda Devi disliked the fact that dancers and musicians entered her sacred land - local customs strictly forbade it. But the worst violation was childbirth on sacred land: according to local customs newborn and their mothers are considered to be unclean for certain period of time. Thus Goddess sent a terrible storm on poor piligrims and they all were killed on spot.

This legend is well known in Himalaya and there is even traditional song mentioning this event - this song mentions exactly hailstones "hard as iron" raining on the heads of sinners.

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