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  • Mystery Lake
  • Skeleton Lake
Roopkund Lake.jpg
Lake in August 2014
LocationChamoli, Uttarakhand
Coordinates30°15′44″N 79°43′54″E / 30.26222°N 79.73167°E / 30.26222; 79.73167Coordinates: 30°15′44″N 79°43′54″E / 30.26222°N 79.73167°E / 30.26222; 79.73167
Average depth2 metres (6 ft 7 in)
Surface elevation4,800 metres (15,700 ft)

Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake or Skeletons Lake)[1] 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),[1] surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains. Roopkund is a popular trekking destination.[2]

With a depth of about two metres, Roopkund is widely known for the hundreds of ancient human skeletons found at the edge of the lake.[3] The human skeletal remains are visible at its bottom when the snow melts.[4] Research generally points to a semi-legendary event where a group of people were killed in a sudden, violent hailstorm in the 9th century.[5] Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.[6]

Human skeletons[edit]

Human skeletons in Roopkund Lake

Skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by Nanda Devi game reserve ranger Hari Kishan 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.[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, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers,[7] 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] Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century CE (1,200 years old) and second group of skeletons were dated to 19th century CE.[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]

More recently, radiocarbon dating found that the remains are from very different eras. All of the remains with South Asian ancestry were dated to around 800 CE., while the other skeletal remains analyzed were dated to around 1800 CE. “These findings refute previous suggestions that the skeletons of Roopkund Lake were deposited in a single catastrophic event,” the scientists explain, in Nature Communications.


Genome-wide DNA study of skeletons from Roopkund by Harney et al. 2018 revealed that the skeletons belonged to two distinct groups; one group is composed of individuals with broadly South-Asian related ancestry from 9th CE[12], and the second group is composed of individuals from 200 years ago with genetic affinity with east Mediterraneans.[13]

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.[5]

In a study published in August 2019, the DNA extracted from 38 skeletons was analyzed and revealed that many different populations experienced mortal incidents at the lake, separated in time by approximately 1,000 years and one that occurred as late as the 19th century.[14]

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.[15] 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.[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.[16]


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).[17] 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.:[17] Roopkund lake is covered with ice for most of the year.

In popular culture[edit]

Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary, "Riddles of the Dead: Skeleton Lake".[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ Andrews, Robin George (20 August 2019). "The Mystery of the Himalayas' Skeleton Lake Just Got Weirder: Every summer, hundreds of ancient bones emerge from the ice. A new genetic study helps explain how they got there". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  4. ^ Sati, Vishwambhar Prasad; Kumar, Kamlesh (2004). Uttaranchal : dilemma of plenties and scarcities (1st ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 82. ISBN 9788170998983.
  5. ^ a b c "Skeleton Lake of Roopkund, India". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Hari Menon (8 November 2004). "Bones Of A Riddle". Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  8. ^ "National Geographic expo solves Roopkund skeleton mystery". Deccan Herald. 30 October 2004. Archived from the original on 14 May 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Roopkund's human skeletons go missing". Deccan Herald. 24 September 2007. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. 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. ^ "8th International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Roopkund skeletons 200 years old".
  14. ^ Rai, Niraj; Reich, David; Thangaraj, Kumarasamy; Kennett, Douglas J.; Boivin, Nicole; Roberts, Patrick; Diyundi, Subhash Chandra; Kumar, Sachin; Bartwal, Maanwendra Singh (20 August 2019). "Ancient DNA from the skeletons of Roopkund Lake reveals Mediterranean migrants in India". Nature Communications. 10 (1): 3670. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-11357-9. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 6702210. PMID 31431628.
  15. ^ "Skeletons:AWOL". Satesman 16.7.2005. (Govt. website). Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  16. ^ Kazmi, SMA (5 February 2009). "Roopkund's skeletal tales". The Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  17. ^ a b Nigam, Devesh (2002). Tourism, environment and development of Garhwal Himalaya (1. ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 28. ISBN 9788170998709.
  18. ^ "Skeleton Lake". Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  19. ^ Riddles of the Dead Episode Guide, National Geographic Channel

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]