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Updated: 2017-08-13T23:14Z

Roopkund the Mystery Lake
Nickname(s): Hunters Crossend
Roopkund the Mystery Lake is located in Uttarakhand
Roopkund the Mystery Lake
Roopkund the Mystery Lake
Roopkund the Mystery Lake is located in India
Roopkund the Mystery Lake
Roopkund the Mystery Lake
Coordinates: 30°15′43″N 79°43′55″E / 30.262°N 79.732°E / 30.262; 79.732Coordinates: 30°15′43″N 79°43′55″E / 30.262°N 79.732°E / 30.262; 79.732
Founded byNone
Elevation5,029 m (16,499 ft)
 • TotalNil
 • OfficialHindi
Time zoneIST (UTC+5:30)
Vehicle registrationUK

Roopkund (locally known as Mystery and Skeletons Lake)[1] is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif and is famous for the hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The area is uninhabited, in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet).[1] Surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.[2]

The Roopkund Lake in August 2014

A shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, Roopkund has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts.[3] Researchers have concluded that the skeletons are the remains of people killed in a sudden, violent hailstorm in the 9th century.[4] Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.[5]

Human skeletons

Human skeletons in Roopkund Lake

Skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger H K Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from the late-19th century. At first, British authorities feared that the skeletons represented casualties of a hidden Japanese invasion force, but it was found that the skeletons were far too old to be Japanese soldiers.[4] The skeletons are visible in the clear water of the shallow lake during a one-month period when the ice melts.[1] Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers,[6] and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of them.[1] Geneticists, Niraj Rai along with Manvendra Singh at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, conducted DNA tests on a hundred samples from the lake and compared them to the current Indian population. Results indicated that 70 percent of them had an affinity with Iran, while the remaining belonged to the local population. It is hypothesized that the Iran group took the help of local porters to seek new land for settlement.[1][7] Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century CE (1,200 years old).[8]

Local legend says that the King of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, their servants, a dance troupe and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, and the group faced a storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund Lake.[9][10]

Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. Radiocarbon dating of the bones at Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit determined the time period to be 850 CE ±30 years.[citation needed] The Anthropological Survey of India conducted a study of the skeletons during the 1950s and some samples are displayed at the Anthropological Survey of India Museum, Dehradun.[11]


Scientific tests from a 2004 expedition to the lake revealed that the skeletons belonged to several groups of people, including a group of short people (probably local porters) and a taller group, who were closely related—with DNA mutations characteristic for Konkanastha Brahmins (Chitpavans) from Maharashtra.[6][not in citation given] A DNA test conducted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, indicated that three samples with unique mutation in mitochondrial DNA, matched with those of the Chitpavans.[6][12][better source needed]

The studies of the skeletons revealed a common cause of death: blows to the back of the head, caused by round objects falling from above. The researchers concluded that the victims had been caught in a sudden hailstorm, just as described in the local legends and songs.[4]

What has not been determined is where the group was headed. There is no historical evidence of any trade routes to Tibet in the area, but Roopkund is on an important pilgrimage route of the Nanda Devi cult with Nanda Devi Raj Jat festivities taking place approximately once every twelve years.[13]

Conservation concerns

There is a growing concern about the regular loss of skeletons and it is feared that, if steps are not taken to conserve them, the skeletons may gradually vanish in the years to come.[14] It is reported that tourists visiting the area are in the habit of taking back the skeletons in large numbers and the district administration has expressed the need to protect the area.[11] The district magistrate of Chamoli District has reported that tourists, trekkers, and curious researchers are transporting the skeletons on mules and recommended that the area should be protected.[9] Governmental agencies have made efforts to develop the area as an eco-tourism destination in an effort to protect the skeletons.[15]


Trekking path to Roopkund, passing near Bedni Bugyal

Roopkund is a picturesque tourist destination and one of the important places for trekking in Chamoli District, Himalayas, near the base of two Himalayan peaks: Trisul (7,120 m) and Nanda Ghunti (6,310 m).[16] The Lake is flanked by a rock face named Junargali to the North and a peak named Chandania Kot to the East. A religious festival is held at the alpine meadow of Bedni Bugyal every autumn with nearby villages participating. A larger celebration, the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, takes place once every twelve years at Roopkund, during which Goddess Nanda is worshipped.:[16]Roopkund lake is covered with ice for most of the year.

Roopkund skeletons in popular culture

Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary, "Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake".[17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e Alam, Aniket (29 June 2004). "Fathoming the ancient remains of Roopkund". The Hindu. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Kohli, M.S. (2000). The Himalayas : playground of the gods : trekking, climbing, adventure. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Co. p. 79. ISBN 9788173871078. 
  3. ^ Sati, Vishwambhar Prasad; Kumar, Kamlesh (2004). Uttaranchal : dilemma of plenties and scarcities (1st ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 82. ISBN 9788170998983. 
  4. ^ a b c "Skeleton Lake of Roopkund, India". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 25 October 2016. 
  5. ^ "Roopkund lake's skeleton mystery solved! Scientists reveal bones belong to 9th century people who died during heavy hail storm". India Today. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Hari Menon (2004-11-08). "Bones Of A Riddle". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  7. ^ "The Intersection #5: Unearthing mysteries of the Harappan civilization". The Intersection podcast. 
  8. ^ "National Geographic expo solves Roopkund skeleton mystery". Deccan Herald. 30 October 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Roopkund's human skeletons go missing". Deccan Herald. 24 September 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Vicki, Pomeroy (2007). Deep in the Indian Himalaya. Garhwal Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 9780615156972. 
  11. ^ a b Kazmi, SMA (12 November 2007). "Tourists to Roopkund trek back with human skeletons". The Indian Express. 
  12. ^ "New Twist to mystery over Roopkund skeletons". The Hindu. 25 January 2005. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Sturman Sax, William (1991). Mountain goddess: gender and politics in a Himalayan pilgrimage. Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-19-506979-X. 
  14. ^ "Skeletons:AWOL". Satesman 16.7.2005. (Govt. website). Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Kazmi, SMA (5 February 2009). "Roopkund's skeletal tales". The Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Nigam, Devesh (2002). Tourism, environment and development of Garhwal Himalaya (1. ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 28. ISBN 9788170998709. 
  17. ^ "Skeleton Lake". Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  18. ^ Riddles of the Dead Episode Guide, National Geographic Channel

Further reading

External links

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