Roopkund Lake, which sits atop the Himalayas at 16,500 feet above sea level, is also known as Skeleton Lake and for good but macabre reasons. The lake is frozen most of the year but when it thaws, hundreds of skeletons emerge.
The skeletons were initially discovered by a forest ranger in 1942, who concluded they were invading Japanese soldiers from World War II. But local folklore has a more colorful explanation. There is a nearby shrine for the mountain goddess Nanda Devi. A king and his queen led a pilgrimage with their attendants, but when Nanda Devi saw how raucous they were in their exultant celebratios, she decided to strike them down. A few years ago, a group of archaeologists concluded that the skeletons belonged to a group of travelers from the ninth century who were struck down by a lethal hailstorm, since many of the skulls show blows to the head.
But a new study has yielded even more puzzling results. The skeletons belong to travelers spread over a 1000 years. There are individuals of South Asian origin dating from the 7th to the 10th century. But then, there are individuals of eastern Mediterranean origin–along with an individual of East Asian origin–dating from the 17th to the 20th century. The natural question is: what were individuals from the eastern Mediterranean doing so far from home and why?
One answer is early ecological tourism. Perhaps news of Roopkund Lake had traveled all the way to Europe and some people decided to pay it a visit.
This explanation, however, does not sit well with Kathleen Morrison, chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She calls attention to the fact that a Hellenic kingom existed in India for about 200 years, beginning in 180 B.C. She also points out that radiocarbon dating gets less and less accurate the closer we get to the present day, implying that the date between the 17th to the 20th century of the eastern Mediterranean individuals is wrong. To her, this massive amount of skeletons can only mean one thing: it’s a graveyard.
Regardless of whether the site was a massive dumping ground for the dead, the recent study also discovered that the individuals included both children and the elderly, but mysteriously, none were family relatives. To me, this is evidence that the skeletons belong to pilgrims. However, a search for travelogues and written accounts of journeys or pilgrimages has proved unfruitful. And the mystery remains and deepens.
Featured image was taken by Atish Waghwase.