top of page

The Dark Secrets of the Himalayan Skeleton Lake

Approximately 40 meters wide and 3 meters deep, this eerie lake can be found in the Northern state of Uttarakhand, lying lonely between rocky, snow-capped Himalayan mountains. Roopkund Lake, commonly known as Skeleton Lake, is in fact one of India’s biggest mysteries.

Roopkund Lake, commonly known as Skeleton Lake, is in fact one of India’s biggest mysteries.
Source: Historic Mysteries

The bottom of this infamously icy lake is home to almost 300 scattered skeletons buried with bundles of jewelry, leather slippers, and a weapon - an iron spearhead. Many of the skulls recovered from the lake hold dents along the forehead or cracks down the middle- an explicit suggestion of the violent deaths that befell these individuals. The most disturbing fact is that the bones belonged to not only men but also women and children.

In a remote lake at an elevation of almost 5000 meters, the question undoubtedly arises- how did these people actually die?


Theories that made the cut

Many theories have been proposed in an attempt to explain these mysterious deaths. Skeleton Lake was first discovered by a wandering ranger in 1942 when India was still a part of the British Empire. The British thus believed that the remains were those of Japanese soldiers who wanted to discreetly enter India through the Northeast region.

Another theory suggests that there was an ancient battle in the mountains, resulting in the bodies of lost soldiers. On the other hand, perhaps it could be better explained with the epidemic theory, which propagates that a deadly disease wiped out an entire village, leaving nothing but scarred bones and rubble. While these scenarios are all plausible, an alternative belief is that the deaths may have been a case of mass suicide, driven by a cult or religious sentiments. A more practical theory suggests that these people were exposed to the bitter Himalayan winters and met their unfortunate end.


The list of stories that surround this mystery is endless. A folk song from a nearby local village dictates a story of a king, who, with his wife and an entourage of entertainers, traveled across the mountains to the temple of the goddess Nanda Devi. According to the legend, Nanda Devi did not appreciate the king’s inappropriate decision of bringing female dancers, and in her rage, hurled hailstones at the pilgrims to their death. Ultimately, this myth reigned supreme as it was heavily supported by the evidence left behind.

The bottom of Roopkund lake, also known as Skeleton Lake,  is home to almost 300 scattered skeletons buried with bundles of jewelry, leather slippers, and a weapon - an iron spearhead.
Source: Pexels

The fantastical mysteries surrounding the body of water have piqued the interest of tourists with many flocking to the lake to catch a glimpse of these skeletons. Some have even confessed to taking home souvenirs! Besides entitled tourists, it has also attracted the attention of researchers and anthropologists who seek out the secrets hidden in the depths of Skeleton Lake.

A shocking turn of events

A recent study conducted in 2019 revealed that the set of skeletons collected constituted a diverse group of people. Some of them originated from South Asia, and surprisingly, a group of them hailed from the Mediterranean, even having DNA similar to those from the island of Crete in Greece. The research concluded that the bones, many of them with the flesh still intact, could be traced back to the 7th century up till the 10th century. It is hence safe to conclude that these bones did not originate from a single event.


This alarming revelation ruled out many of the theories once believed to be true. It could not have been Japanese soldiers because the study revealed that these bones rested long before the war. The battle theory was also dismissed because there were women and children amongst the dead, and no weapons were found apart from a single spearhead.


The injuries present on the skulls were not self-inflicting in nature, eliminating the possibility of mass suicide. Moreover, the epidemic was highly unlikely as further analysis revealed that all the people were in good health at the time of their deaths. The folk story, which was the most fitting of them all, was also disregarded as the bones analyzed were not from the same period.

There is much speculation surrounding Skeleton Lake and its suspicious circumstances, with not much to show for it.
Source: Forbes India

While more stories began to make their rounds, another concerning question arises - what were so many people doing up there in the first place?

The light at the end of the tunnel - or is it?

All this evidence points to one of India’s largest pilgrimages - the Nanda Devi Raj Jat. This three-week-long pilgrimage starts at Kansuwa village near Karnaprayag, and devotees have to pass through Roopkund Lake on their journey. They would often carry gold jewelry and other valuables with them. These pilgrims also had the tendency to carry a tumpline. Essentially, a tumpline is a form of carrier, where the strap goes around the head. Extensive use of the tumpline has been proven to cause indentations in the skull. The rocky terrain and unpredictable mountain weather can make the journey difficult for many. In this case, the pieces of the puzzle fall together slowly but not quite perfectly. There still remains a gray area around the groups of genetics found in the lake. As the Mediterranean individuals remain unaccounted for, the theory of a pilgrimage cannot provide a fulfilling explanation for this morbid site.


With many captivated tourists and dedicated researchers swarming Skeleton Lake in search of answers, the skeletons have been disturbed by countless hands. To protect the sanctity of the site, the state government has taken measures to prevent ravaging visitors whilst continuing to support research surrounding this location.

The search continues

All in all, considering the significant gaps in the timeline of these deaths and the diverse genetic groups, it is difficult to come to a clean, conclusive solution that aligns neatly with all the evidence. Despite the numerous advancements in radiocarbon dating technology, researchers today are still struggling to provide a solid answer to this strange phenomenon.


There is much speculation surrounding Skeleton Lake and its suspicious circumstances, with not much to show for it. What do you think could be the answer to this death-laden riddle?

Khushi Makasare is a content writer at Pratha.

AUTHOR

Khushi Makasare

Pratha Content Writer


0 comments

Comments


bottom of page