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Title: Roopkund  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ganges, Brahmaputra River, Yamuna, Bugyals, Did you know nominations/Bugyals
Collection: Chamoli District, Glacial Lakes of India, Lakes of Uttarakhand, Unsolved Deaths
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Nickname(s): Hunters Crossend
Roopkund is located in Uttarakhand
Country India
State Uttarakhand
District Chamoli
Founded by None
Elevation 5,029 m (16,499 ft)
 • Total Nil
 • Official Hindi
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)

Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake)[1] is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif and is famous for the hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake. The area is uninhabited, located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet).[1] Surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.[2]

The roopkund lake in August 2014

A shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, Roopkund has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts.[3] Many theories and opinions exist, from purely spiritual to scientific ones, attempting to explain the existence of these skeletons, which date back to 9th century CE. Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.[4]


  • Human Skeletons 1
    • Identification 1.1
    • Conservation concerns 1.2
  • Tourism 2
    • Trekking 2.1
    • Other trekking routes 2.2
  • Roopkund skeletons in Popular Culture 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Human Skeletons

Human Skeletons in Roopkund Lake

The human skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger H K Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from the late 19th century.[5] The skeletons are visible in the clear water of the shallow lake during a one-month period, when the ice melts.[1] Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers,[6] and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of them.[1] Geneticist Neeraj Rai at Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad conducted DNA tests on a hundred samples from the lake and compared them to the current Indian population. Results indicated that 70% of them had an affinity with Iran, while the remaining belonged to the local population. It is hypothesized that the Iran group took the help of local porters to seek a new land for settlement.[1][7] Later studies placed the time of mass death around the 9th century AD (1200 years old).[8]

The 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.[9][10]

Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. Radiocarbon dating of the bones at Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit determined the time period to be AD 850 ±30 years. The Anthropological Survey of India conducted a study of the skeletons during the 1950s and some samples are displayed at the Anthropological Survey of India Museum, Dehradun.[11]


Scientific tests revealed that the skeletons belonged to several groups of people, including a group of short people (probably local porters) and a taller group, who were closely related—with DNA mutations characteristic for Konkanastha Brahmins (Chitpavans) from Maharashtra.[5] A DNA test conducted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, indicated that three samples with unique mutation in mitochondrial DNA, matched with those of the Chitpavans.[6][12]

What has not been determined is where the group was headed. There is no historical evidence of any trade routes to Tibet in the area, but Roopkund is located on an important pilgrimage route of the Nanda Devi cult with Nanda Devi Raj Jat festivities taking place approximately once every twelve years.[5][13]

Conservation concerns

There is a growing concern about the regular loss of skeletons and it is feared that, if steps are not taken to conserve them, the skeletons may gradually vanish in the years to come.[14] It is reported that tourists visiting the area are in the habit of taking back the skeletons in large numbers and the district administration has expressed the need to protect the area.[11] District Magistrate of Chamoli District has reported that tourists, trekkers and curious researchers are transporting the skeletons on mules and recommended that the area should be protected in the lines of Valley of flowers.[9] The Government agencies have made efforts to develop the area as an eco-tourism destination, in an effort to protect the skeletons.[15]


Trekking path to Roopkund, passing near Bedni Bugyal

Roopkund is a picturesque and beautiful tourist destination and one of the important places for trekking in Garhwal District, Himalayas, located near the base of two Himalayan peaks: Trisul (7120 m) and Nanda Ghunti (6310 m).[16] A religious festival is held at the alpine meadow of Bedni Bugyal every autumn with nearby villages participating. A larger celebration, the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, takes place once every twelve years at Roopkund, during which Goddess Nanda is worshipped.[16] Roopkund lake is covered with ice for most of the time during the year. However, the journey to Roopkund is an enjoyable experience. All along the way, one is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.


There are different routes for a trek to Roopkund. Generally, trekkers and adventurers travel to Lohajung or Wan by road. From there, they climb a hillock at Wan and reach Ran ki Dhar, where a flat area allows for overnight camping. If the sky is clear, one can see Trishul Parvat from Bedini Bugyal. The next camping spot is at Bedini Bugyal, which is 12–13 km from Wan. There is a huge grazing ground for mules, horses and sheep. There are two temples and a small lake that add to the beauty of this place. One can see many Himalayan peaks from Bedini Bugyal bridge. Trekkers then go up to Bhagwabasa, which is 10–11 km from Bedini Bugyal. The climate at Bhagwabasa is hostile for most of the year. One gets a closer view of Trishul and other peaks higher than 5000 metres. Many waterfalls and landslides are visible on the extreme slopes of the surrounding mountains. From Bhagwabasa, trekkers either go to Roopkund and return, or go to Shila Samundra (Ocean of Stones) via Junargalli Col Pass, which is just above the lake, and then proceed to Homkund.

Other trekking routes

  • Another trekking route starts from Mundoli, near Tharali, which is accessible from Haridwar and Rishikesh.[16]
  • Kathgodam - Ranikhet - Garur- Gwaldam - Debal (1220 m) - Bagrigad (1890 m) - Mundoli village - Lohajung pass - Wan village (2590 m) - Bedni Bugyal (3660 m) - Kalu Vinayak - Baghubasa - Roopkund.

Kathgodam is the only place connected via Rail. Further route can be traveled only by Jeep/Bus.

Roopkund skeletons in Popular Culture

Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary "Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake" [17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e Alam, Aniket (29 June 2004). "Fathoming the ancient remains of Roopkund". The Hindu. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Kohli, M.S. (2000). The Himalayas : playground of the gods : trekking, climbing, adventure. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Co. p. 79.  
  3. ^ Sati, Vishwambhar Prasad; Kumar, Kamlesh (2004). Uttaranchal : dilemma of plenties and scarcities (1st ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 82.  
  4. ^ "Roopkund lake's skeleton mystery solved! Scientists reveal bones belong to 9th century people who died during heavy hail storm". India Today. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c "Roopkund - Skeleton lake". Wondermondo. 
  6. ^ a b Hari Menon (2004-11-08). "Bones Of A Riddle". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  7. ^ 
  8. ^ "National Geographic expo solves Roopkund skeleton mystery". Deccan Herald. 30 October 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Roopkund's human skeletons go missing". Deccan Herald. 24 September 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Vicki, Pomeroy (2007). Deep in the Indian Himalaya. Garhwal Publishing. p. 63.  
  11. ^ a b Kazmi, SMA (12 November 2007). "Tourists to Roopkund trek back with human skeletons". The Indian Express. 
  12. ^ "New Twist to mystery over Roopkund skeletons". The Hindu. 25 January 2005. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Sturman Sax, William (1991). Mountain goddess: gender and politics in a Himalayan pilgrimage. Oxford University Press. p. 256.  
  14. ^ "Skeletons:AWOL". Satesman 16.7.2005. (Govt. website). Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Kazmi, SMA (5 February 2009). "Roopkund's skeletal tales". The Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c Nigam, Devesh (2002). Tourism, environment and development of Garhwal Himalaya (1. ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. p. 28.  
  17. ^ "Skeleton Lake". Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  18. ^ Riddles of the Dead Episode Guide, National Geographic Channel

Further reading

  • Aitken, Bill. The Nanda Devi Affair, Penguin Books India, 1994. ISBN 0-14-024045-4.

External links

  • Roopkund Trek, District Administration-Almora
  • Pictures from RoopKund, Bhagwabhasa, Bedni Bugyal and Ali Bugyal
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