Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake, Roopkund

The mysterious Roopkund Lake
Roopkund is one of the most picturesque and enchanting clear water glacial lakes in the Himalayas, surrounded by snow covered mountains and glaciers. It is located in an uninhabited region (the nearest human settlement is almost 35 km away) in the area of Trishul massif in Chamoli district of Uttrakhand in India at an altitude of 5,029 metres (16,499 feet). Located in close proximity of two Himalayan peaks: Trisul (7120 m) and Nanda Ghunti (6310 m), Roopkund is one of the most important places for trekking in Garhwal district. Roopkund is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of about 2 meters and is frozen for most of the year. It has become infamous after a Nanda Devi game reserve ranger Mr. H K Madhwal made a shocking discovery in 1942. He discovered hundreds of human skeleton scattered in and around the crystal clear water of the lake.

The mysterious Skeleton Lake in the Himalayas

The skeletons are mostly visible during the months of summer mostly for one month when the snow in the lake melts. The extremely low temperatures, and frozen climate at this high altitude has noticeably preserved hairs, nails, soft tissue, and leather accessories giving an impression of a recent tragedy. Some of the skeletons were so well preserved in the frozen lake that it still had flesh attached. This fact was established when a team from National Geographic retrieved about 30 skeletons from the lake for creation of the documentary - Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake. Rings, leather slippers, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, etc had also been discovered along with the human skeletons in the icy ground. After some research and studies, it was established that all those skeletons dated back to 9th century AD (about 1200 years old). Roopkund lake is also known as the “Mystery Lake” for the puzzling occurrence of several hundred human skeletons in the lake and its vicinity.

The frozen Roopkund Lake

Initially it was thought that the Japanese soldiers met a tragic fate while advancing in India during the invasion of World War II, however, it was later clarified that those skeletons were of Indian origin. According to a tale, General Zorawar Singh of Kashmir and his troops were returning from the battle of Tibet in 1841. Unfortunately they were trapped in bad weather and lost their track. They cannot withstand the adversaries of the nature and died in Roopkund. According to some other school of thoughts, the possibility of an epidemic or a suicidal ritual performed near the lake cannot be ignored.

The mysterious Roopkund Lake

According to the local belief Raja Jasdhaval, the King of Kannauj with his pregnant wife Rani Balampa were going on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine to celebrate the birth of their heir. They were accompanied by dancers, musicians, servants, and soldiers and other honorable people. The King rejoiced and enjoyed spirited singing and dancing on route to the pilgrimage, instead of being serene and focusing on his goal. The processing earned the fury of the local deity, Latu. On the way to Nanda Devi shrine they faced a perilous hailstorm with hailstones as large as a cricket ball. The entire caravan was trapped in the middle of the hailstorm in the uninhabited region and were thrown into the Roopkund lake.

Skeletons in the vicinity of Roopkund Lake

More than 300 human skeletons have been found in and around the Skeleton lake (Roopkund lake is also commonly known as Skeleton lake). During 1950's, the Anthropological Survey of India conducted a study of the skeletons, some of the samples of which are displayed at Anthropological Survey of India Museum, Dehradun. The bones were examined in Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the Oxford University in 1960, which ascertained that they belonged to 850 AD (with 30 years margin of error).

The artifacts along with the skeletons around the Roopkund Lake

Recent scientific research uncovers the fact that the skeletons at Roopkund belonged to disparate groups of people. CCMB (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) during their research examined DNA of 31 samples of bone and muscle taken out from the remains and found three samples with unique mutation in mitochondrial DNA (not found anywhere in the world except Maharashtra), which matched with those of the Konkanastha Brahmins (Chitpavans) from Maharashtra. Two samples matched with the Garhwali's.
Most prominent of all the presumed groups are the following two:
  1. Taller Group – these people may have been of the same community and closely related to the Chitpavans.
  2. Shorter Group – these people may have been hired as local porters and guides. Most probably they were Mongoloid hill people of the Himalaya.

Skeletons at the mystic Roopkund Lake

Historical evidence of any trade route to Tibet in this area does not exist. Roopkund is located on the route to Nanda Devi shrine. So, it is quite evident that the procession was heading to the Nanda Devi shrine most probably to participate in the Nanda Devi Raj Jat festival which is celebrated every twelve years.

The Roopkund Lake

According to Subhash Walimbe, Professor and Head (Retired), Department of Anthropology, University of Pune, there were lots of skulls which showed short deep cracks, not caused by a landslide or avalanche, but by blunt, round objects about the size of cricket balls. According to Walimbe, “The only plausible explanation for so many people sustaining such similar injuries at the same time is something that fell from the sky. The injuries were all to the top of the skull and not to other bones in the body, so they must have come from above. Our view is that death was caused by extremely large hailstones”. Subhash Walimbe was a member of the team that visited Roopkund. Subhash Walimbe was Academic Consultant for the National Geographic Channel film titled “Skeleton Lake” released in 2005. Wolfgang Sax, also a part of the team and an anthropologist at Heidelberg University in Germany, mentioned a traditional song among the tribal Himalayan women which explains a deity so enraged at outsiders who disturbed the peace and serenity of her mountain sanctuary that she down poured death upon them by flinging hailstones “as hard as iron”.

The well preserved skeletons in Roopkund Lake

Well preserved skeletons at the Roopkund Lake

Scientists discovered surprising pattern of marks in all the skeletons, in which the skull and upper torso were inflicted with similar sharp blows. It was concluded that the prevalent head and shoulder injuries and absence of injuries to other parts of the body were indicative of impact from large round objects, possibly cricket ball sized hail stones falling from the sky. It is now proposed that the whole procession was severely injured in an intense hailstorm in which people were bombarded with large hailstones estimated to be 9 inches in diameter. The people were trapped in the uninhabited valley with no protective covering, which resulted in an inexplicable collection of skeletons. Their remains were concealed in the glacial valley, freezing for the next 1200 years until their gruesome discovery.

Skeletons scattered around the Roopkund Lake

Skeletons scattered around the Roopkund Lake

According to the historical records, 230 people were killed in a very severe hailstorm which occurred on April 30, 1888 in the Northern districts of India. The hailstones accumulated up to two feet high and were as big as oranges. Freakish hailstorms with large hailstones are most common in the Deccan Plateau of India and in Bangladesh. Recently 9 people were killed in a severe twenty minute hailstorm in Andhra Pradesh.

Skeletons scattered around the Roopkund Lake

The mystic Skeleton Lake

It's quite unfortunate that there have been absolutely no collaborative effort to protect this region. The skeletal remains of the Roopkund lake is getting lost day by day. It needs the attention of the administration to establish as an international tourist spot.

No comments:

Post a Comment