Skeleton Lake: The Terrifying Fate of India’s Ancient Pilgrims

roopkund-lake-in-india-is-known-as-the-mystery-lake-and-skeleton-lake-on-account-of-the-victims-who-lie-within (Image: Schwiki)

Roopkund Lake sits high up in the Himalayas in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, a vast wilderness largely uninhabited save for occasional groups of adventurous mountaineers. But in 1942, game reserve rangers stumbled across a grisly discovery. When the freezing glacial lake’s ice melted, hundreds of human skeletons were revealed, some with flesh still clinging to their bones.

According to Amusing Planet, it was originally thought that the remains might belong to Japanese troops who had been dispatched into the depths of India during World War Two, and ultimately died in the harsh conditions. This theory was dismissed, however, when British explorers examined the remains, and determined that their deaths had not been recent.

roopkund-lake-in-india-is-known-as-the-mystery-lake-and-skeleton-lake-on-account-of-the-victims-who-lie-within-2 (Image: Schwiki)

It wasn’t until the 1960s that radiocarbon dating revealed the true age of the enigmatic Roopkund Lake skeletons. Tests dated them to some point between the 12th and 15th centuries. But later examinations carried out in 2004 were more precise, and put the time of death at around 850. The number of individual remains in the so-called Skeleton Lake (or Mystery Lake) was estimated at somewhere between 500 and 600 souls.

roopkund-lake-in-india-is-known-as-the-mystery-lake-and-skeleton-lake-on-account-of-the-victims-who-lie-within-3 (Image: Ashokyadav739)

The investigation, carried out by National Geographic, suggested that the ghastly group was made up of two distinct peoples; one group was typically more diminutive than the other. They eventually came to the conclusion that the Skeleton Lake was bound up in a tragic period of India’s religious history.

roopkund-lake-in-india-is-known-as-the-mystery-lake-and-skeleton-lake-on-account-of-the-victims-who-lie-within-4 (Image: Ashokyadav739)

Roopkund Lake sits along a Nanda Devi pilgrimage route, making it likely that the people who perished there were pilgrims who died alongside their guides and porters. With no nearby shelter and the area’s proclivity for unpredictable weather, scientists came to the conclusion that the pilgrims likely went down to the lake for water, and died in their hundreds as a storm moved in.

Local folklore tells of an incident that may be related to the deaths. If so, it could indicate that some of the party survived and made it back to safety. A local tale tells of a mountain goddess so angry at those that had trespassed on her land that she rained hailstones down on them from above.

Related: The Chilling Human Remains of Peru’s Ancient Chauchilla Cemetery


About the author: Debra Kelly




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