Roopkund The Mysterious Skeleton Lake

Roopkund is one of the most enticing and fascinating places of the world. Situated in the isolated corners of the greatest mountains of Himalayas at a height of about 5029 meters equalizing at about 16500 feet, it is a creation that nature has brought about in quite an interesting manner. People tend to locate it in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Roopkund has an inscrutability and vagueness that has decepted multiple generations of fortune tellers.



The Skeleton Lake

Roopkund is better off known as “The skeleton lake” due to the presence of an enormous grave that holds about 300 to 600 skeletons. This discovery has revolutionized the world of ancient history ever since 1942, when a park ranger came across this mass deposition of bones. It probably is an in-accessible frozen lake that requires about four day travel to reach from the nearest locality. Recently, it has become an important spot for the visitors as they learn and conjecture this advent of science.


Frozen Roopkund

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.



Some went ahead to mystify the deaths with fictional possibilities and creating folklores out of it. Others suggested multiple causalities of the skeletons being those of wandering Tibetan traders who had lost their way, royal pilgrims, people committing ritualistic suicides, vanquished army etc.

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.

Relics at Roopkund

Skeletons at Roopkund Lake

By conducting DNA tests on these bodies the experts have found that the dead belonged to two different teams. One team is marked by the shorter stature of the skeletons while the other is significantly taller. The first group is thought to be of local artisans while those belonging to the second group were possibly members of the same clan, like porters.

A fresh set of radio carbon dating was carried out on the bodies to reveal that the previous dating had come up with incorrect chronological data. The dead are ascribed a new 9th century date. The scientists of London and Hyderabad examined the skulls closely to find out fractures, which they deem to be the result of an abrupt hailstorm. The hails were unusually large in volume – about the size of a tennis ball each!

Snow Shivling

Shivling (6540m) view from Tapovan plateau, Himalaya, India.

No wonder that anyone exposed to such a calamity in a mercilessly open Garhwal Himalayan plain were doomed to be perished. The raw air and icy hail blasts contributed to their holocaust. It is speculated that more than one landslide has struck Roopkund ever since the massacre. This has served in burying some of the bodies inside the lake – the ones that are still found intact, preserved under ice.

Sadhu doing Aarti with Lamp at Roopkund

Sadhu doing Aarti with Lamp at Roopkund

Even if the dating and possible causes behind such tragic death have been hinted at, the mystery continues about a different aspect of the Skeleton Lake. It still puzzles experts to think about where these people were going. Roopkund was never a historically significant region and no traces of any trade routes have been found to Tibet nor could it possibly be a site for pilgrimage to attract large groups of people.

However, the documentary ‘Skeleton Lake’ made by the National Geographic Channel has countered this assumption. The film claimed that Roopkund was the venue for the Garhwali religious festival called ‘Nanda Jaat yatra’ held in every 12 years. A procession consisting of a newborn four-horned ram considered the familiar of a Goddess starts from the nearest village and heads towards Roopkund.

Coming back to the Skeleton Lake riddle, probably the skeletons were those of the devotees participating in such a mass procession centuries ago. The folklores say that a certain king had participated in this religious ‘yatra’ with his company of female dancers. This had offended the Goddess Nanda and she vented her rage by bringing down the snowstorm at the hapless revelers.


Such accounts might sound mere fairytales, but it is quite possible that at least the taller bodies were of royalty and the short statured bodies scattered everywhere along Roopkund were of local porters – all killed by a destructive hailstorm. Whatever may be the reason of their death – no one still knows what lead so many people to take such an arduous journey so many years ago.

11 Responses to “Roopkund The Mysterious Skeleton Lake”

  1. Mohit-India says:

    Interesting observation on roopkund lake, but I was wondering how people are traveling to the lake now, especially when it’s all covered with ice. i mean, the Nat Geo team is understandable, but one of your photos above shows so many people around the lake!

  2. Very fascinating story, thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  3. What the awesome? says:

    I’m wondering why there is a random man smoking ganga in the middle of this page. Can we have him interjected into photos ala Kanye West.

  4. mustharshid says:

    Mohit, that picture is from the Nat Geo film.

  5. Steve says:

    I’m going to guess that this probably was held over several years and that the people were bringing dead bodies on this 4 day journey to set them off.

  6. Gary says:

    Hmmm… Himalayas… I guess the scientists have discounted the possibility that they were killed by a Yeti throwing stones? Supposedly the North American bigfoot creature likes to throw stones, so if the creatures are related…
    Well, the theory might make for a plot for a horror movie, at least…

  7. Comet Arcade says:

    No matter what’s the story behind it, I think nobody can deny its magnificent view.

  8. Zach says:

    No matter the story behind it, no one can deny that I have pooped in that lake.

  9. Bill Jennison says:

    Re Mohit.

    There are several trekking reports of people making it to Roopkund, with loads of photos, tips and advice on the trek on http://www.india Not permanently frozen.

    Numerous photos on picasso.

  10. armaan says:

    in our folklore it is said that they belong to the royal family of kanyakubja(the slaves and servents) had come for a piligrimage to roopkund but did not follow the rules they were supposed to follow and the mother goddess got annoyed with them,and the mother goddess was so annoyed with them that she killed them all by showering hails on them.

  11. Juell says:

    The above discussion goes well and I fell all you guys have enough knowledge about tourism especially about Skeleton Lake. I never had any chance to visit the Skeleton Lake in my whole travel period. Recently my friend comes from India and he visited the Skeleton Lake on the 15th May, 2014. As his point of views summer is the best time because during this season 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. Hope all of you have more knowledge about this lake and like to share with me.

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