The Skeleton Lake of Roopkund

Roopkund is a very high glacial lake situated in Uttarakhand, one of India’s northern states. You might not have heard about it, but by climbing nearly 4,900 meters up the Himalayan mountains, you can notice this seemingly green coloured lake laden with snow and the area around it lying uninhabited. What is so special about this lake then, is the question that might be on your mind. As it turns out, this lake is brimming with human skeletons. Not just one or two, but over 200 skeletons can be seen on the lake when the lake melts during the warmer season.

The question that would pop into anyone’s mind would be, what could’ve happened here that resulted in the death of these many people? Initially, these bones were found by a British forest guard in 1942, when he was scouting the woods. He reported them as the remains of Japanese soldiers who might’ve tried to sneak into India to take control of it. The British Government, who were ruling India at that time, was terrified of this prospect, so they sent a group of investigators to uncover the truth behind the bones. Upon thorough examination, it was found that the bones were not of Japanese soldiers as they were quite old.


The bones were not bare, there were flesh and hair attached to it, which were preserved by the cold air there, but the investigators could not determine the real cause of what killed this large number of people. Neither could they determine how old these bones were. Theories popped up, claiming the cause of death to be landslide, avalanche, or some ritual that required sacrifice, out of many other theories. However, the real reason for what caused their death was still unknown.

All these conspiracies and speculations came to an end when an expedition was sent to Roopkund in 2004 to study the lake and put an end to all the mysteries. The team found out that the bodies date around 850 AD. Further forensic research indicated that there were two different groups of people among the bones, one belonging to a family or a tribe of closely related individuals, which were more in number, and a second group consisting of smaller people, who were likely the local guides who might’ve been helping them to find the way. Presence of leather shoes, rings, spears and bamboo sticks suggested that the group comprised of a family going to a pilgrimage and the local guides leading the way for them.

What was stranger is that all the bodies died in the same way. All the bodies had short deep cracks on their skulls and shoulder bones, leading the team to believe that something heavy fell on them It was definitely not the weapons as the cracks were made by something rounded and heavy, like a rock. The wounds were present only on their head and shoulders, leading to the conclusion that the blows came directly from above. But what really hit them, is a mystery that still lies unknown.

To reach the skeleton lake of Roopkund, one has to undertake a three-day journey from Gwaldum in Chamoli district, since there are no proper roads to this place. For the most part of the year, the skeleton lake is covered with ice, so you can consider yourself lucky if you actually get to see the bones.  Some of its remains are held in the Anthropological Survey of India Museum in Dehradun. The authorities have decided to turn the Skeleton Lake into an eco-tourism spot, and so that people can learn more about it.