By Prisha Goyal
Deep in the Himalayas, surrounded by snowy mountains, lies Roopkund Lake—better
known as Skeleton Lake. For most of the year, the lake is frozen because of the icy
temperatures, but during warmer weather, the lake puts on a pretty morbid
performance: 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 piled
around the lake. But a huge question still lingers: Who were these people, and what
happened to them?
One suggestion was that all these people died in a single fatal event a thousand years
ago, but a genetic analysis confirmed that these deaths were spread over a millennium
and consisted of people from South Asia and the Mediterranean. Scientists believe that
the people from South Asia may have been on a pilgrimage to honor the goddess Nanda
Devi, which passes through Roopkund. Folktales from nearby villages tell that Nanda
Devi was enraged at a king and queen who violated the rules of the pilgrimage by
bringing along musicians and dancers, and turned her wrath upon them by hurling a
blizzard down their way, casting all the people into the lake. And though the pilgrimage
might explain how the people from South Asia died, it doesn’t explain how the people
from the Mediterranean did. Dating revealed that the Mediterranean group died
sometime around the 18th century, which was perplexing as there was no account of
foreign travelers traversing the area in that time period.
Skeleton Lake has raised more than the dead. Questions have been answered, but as we
dig deeper, more have come up. Skeleton Lake is an enchanting mystery in the vastness
of the Himalayas—and it’s just waiting to be solved.