Skeleton Lake — Unraveled?

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By Prisha Goyal

     Deep in the Himalayas, surrounded by snowy mountains, lies Roopkund Lake—betterknown as Skeleton Lake. For most of the year, the lake is frozen because of the icytemperatures, but during warmer weather, the lake puts on a pretty morbidperformance: the rise of hundreds of human skeletons from its depths. The skeletons’first reported sighting was in 1942, when H K Madhwal, a forest official, saw them piledaround the lake. But a huge question still lingers: Who were these people, and whathappened to them?     One suggestion was that all these people died in a single fatal event a thousand yearsago, but a genetic analysis confirmed that these deaths were spread over a millenniumand consisted of people from South Asia and the Mediterranean. Scientists believe thatthe people from South Asia may have been on a pilgrimage to honor the goddess NandaDevi, which passes through Roopkund. Folktales from nearby villages tell that NandaDevi was enraged at a king and queen who violated the rules of the pilgrimage bybringing along musicians and dancers, and turned her wrath upon them by hurling ablizzard down their way, casting all the people into the lake. And though the pilgrimagemight explain how the people from South Asia died, it doesn’t explain how the peoplefrom the Mediterranean did. Dating revealed that the Mediterranean group diedsometime around the 18th century, which was perplexing as there was no account offoreign travelers traversing the area in that time period.      Skeleton Lake has raised more than the dead. Questions have been answered, but as wedig deeper, more have come up. Skeleton Lake is an enchanting mystery in the vastnessof the Himalayas—and it’s just waiting to be solved.