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Uttarakhand: You can see skeletons of 100s of people at the bottom of this lake

Romita Saluja

February 5, 2018

In the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand lies Roopkund Lake, or the Skeleton Lake, as tourists and locals like to call it. Imagine standing at the bank of a nearly-frozen glacial lake in the middle of the Himalayas and discovering some skulls here, some bones there. The lake is not too deep; in fact, its depth doesn’t even go beyond 200 metres. Plus, being at an altitude of over 5,000 metres, it remains frozen for most of the year. But when the snow does melt, for a month or two during summers, you can see hundreds of human skeletons forming the bed of the Himalayan lake. Intrigued?

Records say that the skeletons were first discovered some 75 years ago, during World War II. Reported by a ranger at the Nanda Devi national park, at first they were presumed to be the remains of Japanese soldiers struck down by the weather or weapons while marching through the route. Skeletons were then unearthed, studies conducted. The tests said that the bones date back to a much older era, around 850 AD. The enigma around the lake never really withered out.

Recently, scientists hypothesised that the skeletons could be belonging to a group of Chitpavans or people with Iranian ancestry in search of land, using local Indians from the Himalayas as porters. Facts say that the DNA largely belonging to two tribes were found during the study- a group of tall foreigners and some short locals. As they were passing through the area, a possibly violent hailstorm struck them hard in the head, killing them all.

A Forbes story says that 3D technology is being used by archaeology and ethnography experts to scan the river and unearth the stories hidden and lost in time. At the same time, efforts are being made by the government to help preserve the remains considered significant for the study.

Visit Roopkund Lake if you love snow, science or spookiness. Trek through the steep Himalayan route to please your adventurous side or just to challenge yourself. Beni Bugyal-Roopkund lake trek route is a popular one. You can also start your trek from Didina Village. 

Here are some FAQs for you, if you would like to visit the lake.

Where exactly is Roopkund lake?

Roopkund Lake is situated in the Loharjung region in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Most trekking expeditions start from this point. It’s a high altitude area and is accessible through road.

How to visit Roopkund Lake?

Reach Loharjung Pass to start your trek. It is accessible through road. If you are travelling by train, Kathgodam and Rishikesh railway stations are the closest. Take a local bus or a cab there onwards. The road route from Rishikesh to Loharjung takes your through Rudraprayag and Karnaprayag. You can also take the Kathgodam route to Loharjung. Kathgodam is a small town in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand.

Distance from major cities:

Delhi to Roopkund Lake: 308 km

Rishikesh to Ropkund Lake: 142 km

Kathgodam to Roopkund Lake: 112 km

Ranikhet to Ropkund Lake: 74.6 km

Jaipur to Ropkund Lake: 535 km

Chandigarh to Ropkund Lake: 287 km

When to visit Roopkund Lake?

The lake remains frozen for most of the year. May end to October is deemed the best time to visit, though it’s advisable to check in advance for rains. The temperature in May and June remains somewhere around 15 degrees Celsius during the day, often dropping to below 5 or even 0 degrees Celsius during the night. Expect a little colder weather during September and October.

What else to keep in mind while planning a trek to Roopkund lake?

It’s a high-altitude trek, so it’s advisable to carry oxygen cylinders and a first-aid kit, apart from the sleeping tents. You can set up your base camp in Loharjung. Apart from the woollens, also carry rain jackets. To avoid frost-bites, wear properly fitted snow boots and warm rainproof gloves. Also, don’t forget to carry your identity proofs. 

Anything else?

Yes, Mount Trishul, perched at a height of over 15,000 feet, overlooks the gorgeous Roopkund lake. The trek takes you through beautiful forests and gorgeous meadows, scenic ridges and bubbling rivers, and icy zigzag paths lined by oaks and rhododendrons. The trek is not an easy one but the beauty of everything mentioned above makes it worth undertaking it.

Pictures courtesy: WikiMedia Commons

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