Roopkund Lake – An Enigma

Joy Mandhotra

September 10, 2018

Roopkund Lake is a marvelous glacial lake, situated at an altitude of 16,500 feet.While climbing up to the lake, one cannot see it. It is ensconced perfectly amidst mighty mountains and appears to be at the bottom of a crater, from distance. 

The mystery of Roopkund lies around the presence of lot of human skeletons in it.

Like many other Himalayan lakes, this one has a mythological significance. According to the myth, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were on their way to either Kailash or Trishul. Goddess Parvati, who prior to this journey had killed demons wanted to clean up. Obliging to her whims, Lord Shiva created a lake using his Trishul. Goddess Parvati bathed in the pristine blue waters. The waters were so clear that she could easily see her reflection in it. From there came the name; ‘Roop’ kund. The word Roop meaning appearance and kund refers to a small reservoir.

Mystery of Roopkund Lake

We’ve talked about the mythological roots of the lake but that is not what makes it mysterious. The mystery lies around the presence of hundreds of skeletons in it.

After years and years of speculation it was proved that the skeletons present inside the lake were from the 9th century. Though the age of the bones is certain, it is still not sure who the skeletons belong to.

Many theories revolve around the same.

According to the folklore of the mountains, the skeletons are of the family and followers of the then King of Kanauj including himself. They were pulled to the mountains because of the famous Nanda Devi pilgrimage. The King was accompanied by his pregnant wife, which played a significant role in the story. The group of people speculated to be somewhere between 300 – 600 people had managed to successfully reach Roopkund Lake. On reaching the lake, the weather took an inclement change and it started raining heavily. Heavy rain is rather an understatement because as per the locals it hailed. The hailstones were not the ones we are used to see but as big as the size of cricket balls. Some people even said melons, but we can stick to cricket balls!

Other Myths and Theories

The skeletons found at the lake do have cracked skulls and it corroborates the hailstorm theory. Though according to the folklore the reason behind the major storm was “the pregnant lady giving birth to a child.” We can call it a myth but the locals of the villages near Roopkund Lake still believe in it. They still think that a menstruating woman is impure and if she touches the “abode of gods” then they spell catastrophe. History is proof for them.

Some researches on the other hand talk differently. A team of Indian geneticists compared the skeletons to the current Indian population and stated that 70% the skeletons had a close connection with Iran. Eventually a theory arose that the skeletons were that of Iranians, who were traveling with local porters seeking land for shelter.

On the other hand some people say, the group was that of Tibetans who were lost and eventually got stuck in the hailstorm.

Conclusive Research

In 2004, a scientific expedition to the lake conducted several tests on unique skeleton samples. They concluded by stating that the skeletons belonged to 2 sets of people. One group with the shorter stature was cited as that of the local porters and the taller one was said to be of a Marathi clan called Chitpavans. DNA from different samples matched the DNA samples of Chitpavans.

Close scrutiny of the skeletons did confirm that the common cause of the death was blows to the back of the head. Which was due to round objects falling from above. Extremely close to what the local legends said.

All this is just the story attached to the Roopkund Lake itself. Once you do the trek you’ll get to know a myriad more stories. Apparently the Vedas were conceived at the meadows on the way to the Lake!

It is a mystically beautiful trek that does deserve a visit. Make sure you don’t attempt and carry bones back with you. You can be busted!


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Joy Mandhotra

A renegade engineer. Breaking social constructs, exploring places, riding new adventures and discovering myself amidst it all.