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Nickname(s): Hunters Crossend
Roopkund is located in Uttarakhand
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
Country India
State Uttarakhand
District Chamoli
Founded by None
Elevation 5,029 m (16,499 ft)
 • Total Nil
 • Official Hindi
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)

Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake)[1] is a high altitude glacial lake in Uttarakhand state of India, lies in the lap of Trishul massif and famous due to hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The location is uninhabited and is located in Himalaya at an altitude of about 5,029 metres (16,499 feet).[1] The lake is surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow clad mountains, making it a good trekking destination.[2]

The roopkund lake in August2014

A shallow lake, having a depth of about 2 metres, Roopkund has attracted attention by having human skeletal remains easily visible at its bottom when snow melts.[3] There are many theories and opinions, from purely spiritual to purely scientific ones, which explain the existence of these skeletons, which date back to 9th century CE. Because of these skeletons, the lake is also sometimes called as Skeleton lake in recent times. [4]

Human Skeletons[edit]

Human Skeletons in Roopkund Lake

The human skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger H K Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from late 19th century.[5] 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, objects like wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers,[6] rings etc. were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of the skeletons.[1] One study identified the skeletons as those of Indians, and not of Chinese.[1] Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century AD (1200 years old).[7]

The local legend says that king of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife Rani Balampa, servants, dance troupe and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine and the group faced a hail storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund lake.[8][9]

Though the numbers were not ascertained, 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 AD 850 ±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.[10]


Scientific tests 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.[5] 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][11]

What is not determined was where the group was headed. There is no historical evidence of any trade routes to Tibet in the area, but Roopkund is located on an important pilgrimage route of the Nanda Devi cult with Nanda Devi Raj Jat festivities taking place approximately once every twelve years.[5][12]

Conservation concerns[edit]

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.[13] 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.[10] 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 in the lines of Valley of flowers.[8] The Government agencies have made efforts to develop the area as an eco-tourism destination, in an effort to protect the skeletons.[14]


Trekking path to Roopkund, passing near Bedni Bugyal

Roopkund is a picturesque and beautiful tourist destination and one of the important places for trekking in Garhwal District, Himalayas, located near the base of two Himalayan peaks: Trisul (7120 m) and Nanda Ghunti (6310 m).[15] 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.[15] Roopkund lake is covered with ice for most of the time during the year. However, the journey to Roopkund is an enjoyable experience. All along the way, one is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.


There are different routes for a trek to Roopkund. Generally, trekkers and adventurers travel to Lohajung or Wan by road. From there, they climb a hillock at Wan and reach Ran ki Dhar. There is some flat area where trekkers can camp for the night. If the sky is clear, one can see Trisul parbat from bedni bugyal. The next camping spot is at Bedni Bugyal, which is 12–13 km from Wan. There is a huge grazing ground for mules, horses and sheep. There are two temples and a small lake that add to the beauty of this place. One can see many Himalayan peaks from Bedni Bugyal bridge. Trekkers then go up to Bhagwabasa, which is 10–11 km from Bedni Bugyal. The climate at Bhagwabasa is hostile for most of the year. One gets a closer view of Trisul and other peaks higher than 5000 metres. Many waterfalls and landslides are visible on the extreme slopes of the surrounding mountains. From Bhagwabasa, trekkers either go to Roopkund and come back or they go to Shila Samundra (Ocean of Stones) via Junargalli Col Pass, which is just above the lake, and then proceed with the trek up to Homkund.

Other trekking routes[edit]

  • Another trekking route starts from Mundoli, near Tharali, which is accessible from Haridwar and Rishikesh.[15]
  • Kathgodam - Ranikhet - Garur- Gwaldam - Debal (1220 m) - Bagrigad (1890 m) - Mundoli village - Lohajung pass - Wan village (2590 m) - Bedni Bugyal (3660 m) - Kalu Vinayak - Baghubasa - Roopkund.

Kathgodam is the only place connected via Rail. Further route can be traveled only by Jeep/Bus.[citation needed]

Roopkund skeletons in Popular Culture[edit]

Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary "Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake" [16][17]


  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. ^ "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. 
  5. ^ a b c "Roopkund - Skeleton lake". Wondermondo. 
  6. ^ a b Hari Menon (2004-11-08). "Bones Of A Riddle". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  7. ^ "National Geographic expo solves Roopkund skeleton mystery". Deccan Herald. 30 October 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Roopkund's human skeletons go missing". Deccan Herald. 24 September 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Vicki, Pomeroy (2007). Deep in the Indian Himalaya. Garhwal Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 9780615156972. 
  10. ^ a b Kazmi, SMA (12 November 2007). "Tourists to Roopkund trek back with human skeletons". The Indian Express. 
  11. ^ "New Twist to mystery over Roopkund skeletons". The Hindu. 25 January 2005. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Sturman Sax, William (1991). Mountain goddess: gender and politics in a Himalayan pilgrimage. Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-19-506979-X. 
  13. ^ "Skeletons:AWOL". Satesman 16.7.2005. (Govt. website). Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  14. ^ Kazmi, SMA (5 February 2009). "Roopkund's skeletal tales". The Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c Nigam, Devesh (2002). Tourism, environment and development of Garhwal Himalaya (1. ed. ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 28. ISBN 9788170998709. 
  16. ^ "Skeleton Lake". Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  17. ^ Riddles of the Dead Episode Guide, National Geographic Channel

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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