- The lake, known as 'Skeleton lake', is situated at an altitude of 5,029 meters, in the Himalayas. Every year, when the snow melts, one can see hundreds of scattered skulls. The skeletons were first found by a British forest guard in 1942.
Initially, it was believed that the skeletons were those of Japanese soldiers who had died while crossing that route during World War II. But scientists have now found out that the skeletons were of pilgrims and locals as the bodies dated to around 850 AD.
Roopkund is a high altitude glacial lake in the Uttarakhand state of India, lies in the lap of Trishul massif and famous due to hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake.
- Some British explorers to Roopkund and many scholars suggested that the bones belonged to General Zorawar Singh of Kashmir, and his men, who are said to have lost their way and perished in the high Himalayas, on their return journey after the Battle of Tibet in 1841. But radio-carbon tests on the corpses in the 1960s belied this theory. The tests vaguely indicated that the skeletons could date back to anytime between the 12th and 15th centuries. This led many historians to link the corpses to an unsuccessful attack by Mohammad Tughlak on the Garhwal Himalaya. Still, others believed that the remains were of those of victims of an unknown epidemic. Some anthropologists also put forward a theory of ritual suicide.
It was only in 2004 when a team of European and Indian scientists converged on the area at the behest of the National Geographic Channel, the horrifying truth of the mystery started coming to light.
- DNA testing placed the dead into two distinct physical categories - one of short stature and the other significantly taller. Their findings also revealed that the bodies belonged to a much earlier time than previously thought. Carbon dating put the date around 850 AD.
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 festivities taking place approximately once every 12 years. The group consisting of 500 to 600 people were most likely pilgrims. The primary travelers were all from the same area, and they had hired a group of porters who knew the area to carry their baggage through the high mountains. On coming to the lake, they had probably climbed down the slopes to get fresh water when the clouds moved in. With no shelter in the open Himalayas, many, or possibly all of them, perished. The icy waters preserved their bodies for hundreds of years. Some of them even had hair and nails as well as pieces of clothing intact.