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.
It is now one of my two favorite times of the day: twilight. Celtic lore holds that the “veil” between the human world and the fairy world “lifts” during these magical times of day, allowing for fairies to be seen by humans. I’ve investigated what gives twilight its magical blue color in the sky. It turns out that during morning and evening twilight, the Sun is from 4 to 8 degrees beneath the horizon. During these times, the Sun’s blue wavelengths dominate because the ozone layer absorbs the yellow, orange, and red parts of the light spectrum. This kind of absorption is known as the Chappuis absorption, named after the French chemist James Chappuis. As a result, a magical teal color dominates the sky. The sun sets pretty late here in Barcelona, at aroun 9 p.m. I say late because I’m used to the sun setting at 6:30 p.m. in Puerto Rico, where I’m from. Photographers love to take photos during the blue hour because the blue light is magnificent, as you can see here. It’s almost as if they’re hoping to catch a fairy.
W.B. Yeats once wrote: “At Howth, a great colony of otherworld creatures travel nightly.” The Irish Times has a great article about fairies still living in the Irish imagination. From the article and being quoted from Irish Fairies (1890) by W.B. Yeats:
“When I tell people that the Irish peasantry still believe in fairies, I am often doubted. They think that I am merely trying to weave a forlorn piece of gilt thread into the dull grey worsted of this century. They do not imagine it possible that our highly thought of philosophies so soon grow silent outside the walls of the lecture room, or that any kind of ghost or goblin can live within the range of our daily papers. If the papers and the lectures have not done it, they think, surely at any rate the steam-whistle has scared the whole tribe out of the world. They are quite wrong. The ghosts and goblins do still live and rule in the imaginations of the innumerable Irish men and women, and not merely in remote places, but close even to big cities.
At Howth, for instance, ten miles from Dublin, there is a ‘fairies path’, whereon a great colony of otherworld creatures travel nightly from the hill to the sea and home again.”
I have discovered a new place to hang out and it’s called Bonaparte Pa i Dolç. It is a franchise bakery located in Bellaterra. It opens early (7:30 a.m.) an closes late (8:30 p.m.). Imagine that right in the middle of vacation month. The personnel is very sweet and the people who frequent it are very nice. Just this morning I met Manuel, a professor of literature at the University of Barcelona. He casually mentioned to someone that he was looking for someone to teach him English and that caught my attention. Since the culture here in Spain is just like in Latin America, I decided to volunteer that I knew English. He was thrilled! He also told me that he visited the bakery every morning, and I was thrilled. I can completely envision this place being my local hangout. The girl behind the counter was also very helpful in suggesting ways I could learn Catalan, and we talked about our love for novels by the Barcelonan Carlos Ruiz Zafón. She even told me about a plaza near the Cathedral of Barcelona that appears in one of his novels. All in all a good day so far. I’m awaiting the coming storm with rotund joy.
Yesterday was a bit of a weird day. It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, so that was nice. But the things I wanted to do were cut short by stomach pain. I was able to visit the doctor, who was very nice but suggested I get an endoscopy done. I am very reluctant to get an endoscopy done in a country that is not my own. The procedure entails some risks I don’t want to take, and if something happens to me, no one will hear from me again, and that fills me with terror. Plus, I already know I have an ulcer and re-diagnosing an ulcer wouldn’t change the treatment plan, which is a rigorous course of antacids and Spain’s answer to Pepto Bismol. I was able to go to the supermarket to buy chicken broth and chicken soup as directed by the doctor, and I visited the church in Bellaterra.
But get this, the church was closed. They only open on Saturdays and Sundays during the month of August. Because you guessed it, it’s vacation month. Gone are the days when you could visit a church on any day of the week, even if it was not for prayer and only a respite from walking, and have it be open for people. I remember in my childhood that churches were open at all times. But in speaking to my mother, who is a fund-raiser for restoring dilapidated churches, the world has changed. Robbery and disagreeable events have made churches close unless mass is being given. She said St. Patrick’s may be one of the few churches open to the public all the time. So, in essence, I could only see the outside of the church, which was very beautiful (see photo).
I then had to go home and lay down for awhile in order for the stomach pain to go away. But I was able to catch up on my reading for my master’s and work on my Web site, which was a class on WordPress all to itself. I want to thank the anonymous person at the other end of the live support chat who was so patient with me, answering every single question I had on how to customize the site.
Today is cleaning day. My apartment comes with a weekly cleaning. Not only that but today, as promised by someone, we’re getting a storm, which will cool things down a bit. I’m excited. I’m about to make myself my first cup of decaf coffee so the ulcer doesn’t complain. I’ve never made decaf coffee because the idea is anathema to me. Coffee always makes my day exciting, though. Baby steps with that darn ulcer.
Today I have a busy day ahead of me. I don’t have a printer yet and I need to print out some papers that a professor sent me to read. What this means is that I have to walk 20 minutes under the hot Barcelona sun to my department and have them printed there. But I’m determined to make this as painless as possible. The earlier I get there, the less sun I will have to deal with. Luckily, I have discovered a delicious coffee that helps me wake up in the morning.
At the nearby town of Sant Quirze (only two train stops away), there is a huge commercial center called Al Campo, which is the French’s answer to Costco. But unlike Costco, it is several times bigger. It’s like 3 airplane hangars big and in there you can find *anything* you can think of. Household items, electronic equipment, soccer (sorry, fútbol) balls, sports clothing, hair tint, car coolant, jamón ibérico; you name it, they have it. It’s a little intimidating when you walk in because you get immediate choice fatigue. So when you go, you better have a list of things and a healthy sense of agency; otherwise, you can end up like some people I’ve seen there: completely dazed, wandering aimlessly through the aisles.
So back to the coffee. At Al Campo, I discovered a coffee by Lavazza called Qualità Rossa, which has to be the best coffee I have ever tasted after Puerto Rican coffee, which for me continues to be the best thing in the world. Qualità Rossa has flavor notes of chocolate. It makes for a rich brew, low in acidity. In the United States, it’s sold on Amazon, if you care to try it.
After I get those papers printed, I have to buy T-shirts, an item of clothing I haven’t owned in years, because of the heat. Finally, I want to visit a small church in Bellaterra, which is the town next to the University. It’s ancient, and I’m curious to see it.
Today I visited the Frankfurt, the only open café at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. I arrived in Spain 12 days ago, and I didn’t know that August was vacation month in Spain. Everything is either understaffed, keeping odd hours, or simply closed for the time being. This makes for a challenging time in finding, for instance, a pharmacy open. The pharmacy at Bellaterra has been closed all last week due to vacation so the closest one open is two train stops away. Barcelona is also experiencing terribly hot weather. Right now, it’s 31 C with a RealFeel® of 33 C thanks to humidity (87 F with a RealFeel® of 92 F). So walking underneath the hot sun, with no cloudy cover in the sky, has also been challenging. Even walking to the Frankfurt is painful. You can feel your skin burning as you step out into the sun. I’ve been told that things will get better during the second half of August, which should be now, when thunderstorms will cool off the heat. I’ve also been told that Barcelona has been getting progressively hotter and hotter during the last few years, corroborating that climate change is indeed real, no matter what any political leaders might say. I am currently esconced in my apartment with A/C since staying at the Frankfurt was too hot for me. But staying in your apartment with nowhere to go also gives you cabin fever, so I’m keeping busy with various projects, this Web site being one of them!