|Average depth||3 metres (9.8 ft)|
|Surface elevation||4,536 metres (14,882 ft)|
Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake or Skeletons Lake) is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif. Located in the Himalayas, the area around the lake is uninhabited and is roughly at an altitude of 16,470 feet (5,020 m), surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains. Roopkund is a popular trekking destination. The size of the lake varies substantially, but it is seldom more 40 meters in diameter (1000 to 1500 square meters in area), and is frozen in the winter.
With a depth of about 3 metres, Roopkund is widely known for the hundreds of ancient human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The human skeletal remains are visible at its bottom when the snow melts. Research generally points to a semi-legendary event where a group of people were killed in a sudden, violent hailstorm in the 9th century. Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.
Skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by Nanda Devi game reserve ranger Hari Kishan Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from the late 9th 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. The skeletons are visible in the clear water of the shallow lake during one month when the ice melts. Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers, and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic retrieved about 30 skeletons in 2003, flesh was still attached to some of them.
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.
Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. 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. The studies of the skeletons revealed head injuries, which according to some sources were caused by round objects from above and the common cause of death. Those researchers concluded that the victims had been caught in a sudden hailstorm, just as described in local legends and songs. Radiocarbon dating of the bones at Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit determined the time of death to be 850 CE ±30 years. More recently, radiocarbon dating combined with genome-analysis found that the remains are from very different eras and belong to different distinct groups. A group of remains with South Asian ancestry was dated over a period of time around 800 CE, while the other skeletal remains of Mediterranean or Southeast Asian origin were dated to around 1800 CE. Those findings counter the theory that the individuals died in a single catastrophic event. The radiocarbon dating further suggests that the older, South Asian remains were deposited over an extended period or time, while the younger, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian group of remains was deposited during a single event.
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. It is reported that tourists visiting the area are in the habit of taking back the bones in large numbers and the district administration has expressed the need to protect the area. 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. Government agencies have made efforts to develop the area as an eco-tourism destination to protect the skeletons.
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). 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. The lake is covered with ice for most of the year, with the best time to trek being in autumn (mid-September to October).
In popular culture
Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary, "Riddles of the Dead: Skeleton Lake". The Indian Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) commissioned the documentary "The Mysterious Frozen Lake in the Himalayas", where a scientific team and a film crew try to investigate the lake.
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