5 Facts about Roopkund Skeleton Lake

Roopkund Lake, locally known as “Mystery Lake”, is a glacial lake in Uttarakhand, India. More recently, the Himalayan lake has also been called “Skeleton Lake”. This name is not without reason: the edges of the lake are literally littered with hundreds of human skeletons. It’s time for another 5 Facts Friday, so here are 5 more peculiar details about Roopkund Skeleton Lake.

Roopkund Lake in the Himalayas.
Photo by Abhijeet Rane on Flickr (creative commons).

1. the one month When the snow melts

Since Roopkund Skeleton Lake is glacial lake, it is covered in ice for about 8 months every year. Apparently, the skeletons are only clearly visible during one month in summer, when the ice has melted and the water level of the shallow lake has sufficiently fallen.

Photo by Schwiki (creative commons).
Photo by Schwiki (creative commons).

2. World War II soldiers or ancient pilgrims?

The skeletons were discovered by a game reserve ranger in 1942, during World War II. The ranger initially assumed the skeletons belonged to fallen Japanese soldiers who had tried to invade via India. Upon closer inspection by a team of British investigators, the bones proved to be much older.

3. National Geographic 2004 expedition

In 2004, a team from National Geographic Magazine finally travelled to the lake to retrieve about 30 skeletons for inspection. The lake’s high altitude and icy temperatures had preserved much of the remains, so some of the skeletons still had hair and flesh attached to the bones. Geneticists in Hyderabad conducted DNA tests and concluded that the skeletons were about 1200 years old, dating their deaths to the 9th century (AD).

Gigantic hailstones.
Photo by Javier Candeira on Flickr (creative commons).

4. Mystery Solved: killer hailstones

Several local folk legends describe a group of pilgrims that were hit by a deadly storm with hailstones as hard as rocks. The elusive cause of the mass death remained a mystery until 2013, when the expedition team finally confirmed the killer to have been gigantic hailstones. This conclusion was based on skull and shoulder fractures, found in all skeletons.

5. Tourists Stealing Skeletons

Since 2004, the eerie Skeleton Lake has become a relatively popular tourist destination, appealing to the imagination of many adventurous trekkers. Unfortunately, there have been reports of tourists trekking back from the lake with skeletal remains in their ‘pockets’. Roopkund lake is now an officially designated eco-tourism destination, which makes stealing anything from the site a punishable offence.

Roopkund Lake, India.
Photo by Schwiki (creative commons).
Sources: [1] [2] [3]

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