Roopkund, locally known as Mystery Lake or Human Skeletons Lake, is a high altitude glacial lake at Uttarakhand state of India. The area is uninhabited, in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres, and surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.
It is a shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, which has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery.
In 1942, a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger Hari Kishan Madhwal made an alarming discovery: at the bottom of a small valley, there was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying around the lake’s edges. What could have happened there so terrible?
It being war time, and the immediate assumption was that these were the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died of exposure while sneaking through India. So, the British government, terrified of a Japanese land invasion, sent a team of investigators to determine if this was true.
However, upon examination, they realized these bones were not from Japanese soldiers: they weren’t fresh enough, and it was evident that the bones were quite old indeed.
Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. Morever, they had no idea what had killed over 200 people in this small valley.
Many theories were put forth, including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide, and for decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.
It was a 2004 expedition to the site which seems to have finally revealed the mystery of what caused those people’s deaths, and the answer was stranger than anyone had guessed!
As it turns out, all the bodies date to around 850 AD, and DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller group of locals, likely hired as porters or guides.
DNA tests were conducted on a hundred samples from the lake and compared them to the current Indian population. Results indicated that 70 percent of them had an affinity with Iran, while the remaining ones belonged to the local population. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of Iranian pilgrims heading through the valley took the help of local porters to seek new land for settlement.
All the corpses had died in a similar way, from blows to the head, and the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. So, what had killed all, porter and pilgrim alike?
Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song: the lyrics describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron.”
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.
After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion: all 200 people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm!
Trapped in the valley with nowhere to hide or seek shelter, the “hard as iron” cricket ball-sized (about 23 centimeter circumference) hailstones came by the thousands, resulting in the travelers’ bizarre sudden death.