Roopkund (locally known as Mystery Lake, Human Skeletons Lake) is a high altitude glacial lake in the Village Wan, Debal, Chamoli, Uttarakhand state of India. It lies in the lap of Trishul massif and is famous for the hundreds of human skeletons found at the edge of the lake.
The area is uninhabited, in the Himalayas at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet). Surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow-clad mountains, the lake is a popular trekking destination.
A shallow lake, having a depth of about two metres, Roopkund has attracted attention because of the human skeletal remains that are visible at its bottom when the snow melts. Researchers have concluded that the skeletons are the remains of people killed in a sudden, violent hailstorm in the 9th century. Because of the human remains, the lake has been called Skeleton Lake in recent times.
Skeletons were rediscovered in 1942 by a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger Hari Kishan Madhwal, although there are reports about these bones from the late-19th century. At first, British authorities feared that the skeletons represented casualties of a hidden Japanese invasion force, but it was found that the skeletons were far too old to be Japanese soldiers.
The skeletons are visible in the clear water of the shallow lake during a one-month period when the ice melts. Along with the skeletons, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather slippers, and rings were also found. When a team from National Geographic magazine retrieved about 30 skeletons, flesh was still attached to some of them.
Local legend says that the King of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, their servants, a dance troupe and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, and the group faced a storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund Lake.
Remnants belonging to more than 300 people have been found. Radiocarbon dating of the bones at Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit determined the time period to be 850 CE ±30 years.