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article imageThe chilling secret of one of the Himalaya's glacial lakes

By Karen Graham     Jul 11, 2015 in Travel
High up in the Himalayan mountains of the Uttarakhand state of India, lies a small glacial lake called Roopkund. At an altitude of 16,499 feet, it is frozen over most of the year. But when the ice melts occasionally, Roopkund gives up its grisly secret.
When the ice thaws on Roopkund Lake, the clear glacial waters reveal its mysterious and grisly secret. Being only 2.0 meters (6.6 feet) deep, you can get a clear view of the hundreds of skeletons in the lake, some jutting out of the icy waters.
It is plain to see the bones, some with pieces of flesh and hair still attached, are very old and well preserved in this remote area of craggy glaciers, rocky chasms, and snow blanketed mountains. And for years, after "Skeleton Lake" was discovered in 1942, people wondered at the mystery surrounding the hapless humans who lost their lives in the lake.
Roopkund Lake is about 6.6 feet deep.
Roopkund Lake is about 6.6 feet deep.
Skeletons discovered in Roopkund Lake
In 1942, a British forest ranger, doing a survey, happened on the lake. The summer ice melting had revealed the skeletons, some floating in the water, and others lying haphazardly about along the shore. His immediate response was to think something horrendous had happened to the people there.
With a war going on, it was thought the skeletons were the remains of Japanese soldiers, perhaps sneaking through India. The British government, being worried of a land invasion, sent a team to investigate the skeletons. It was decided the bones weren't "fresh enough" to be Japanese soldiers, so the mystery was to remain for some time.
Who were these people, and how did they die?
In 1942, the mystery of "Skeleton Lake" began to grip the public's fascination. There were all kinds of theories, but nobody seemed able to identify who the people were, or exactly how old the bones might be. All that was agreed upon was that over 200 people had been killed in either a landslide, avalanche, or possibly as the result of mass murder or suicide.
Based on local legend, it was thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a Kashmir warrior, Zogawar Singh, known as the Napoleon of India, and his army who had gone missing while returning to Tibet. Other theories suggested the remains were religious zealots who participated a mass suicide.
 And the goddess rained hailstones down upon them   The balls of ice in the photo are nine inches in...
"And the goddess rained hailstones down upon them," The balls of ice in the photo are nine inches in circumference.
Atlas Obscura
National Geographic expedition: "The goddess rained death"
Perhaps the most intriguing theory had to do with an ancient and traditional folk song sung by Himalayan women. The words of the song describe a goddess so enraged by outsiders defiling her mountain sanctuary that she "rained death" upon them by flinging hailstones "hard as iron."
A National Geographic team trekked to Roopkund Lake in 2004, bringing 30 skeletons back to the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India. There, DNA testing was done. Samples were also sent to the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of Oxford University, where it was revealed the skeletons dated back to 850AD.
It s a five day trek to reach Roopkund Lake  high in the Himalayas.
It's a five day trek to reach Roopkund Lake, high in the Himalayas.
Researchers determined that all 200 or so of the skeletons were people who had died at approximately the same time. After death, the freezing water, along with the dry, icy conditions had kept the remains in remarkably well-preserved condition. The team noted the remains they found still had "hair, flesh, jewelry, and leather clothing that were shockingly intact."
Another interesting discovery was that DNA testing revealed two distinct groups of people were in the lake. One group of taller people were all related while the other group, made up of shorter people, may have been porters or guides. Based on examination of the clothing and other articles, it is thought the people were on a pilgrimage of some sort.
But what killed them? Here's where the evidence supposedly tells the story. All the skulls showed evidence of blunt force trauma to the head. Forensic studies indicated the skull fractures were caused by a heavy, round object, about the size of a cricket ball, or nine inches in circumference.
For about one month in the year  Roopkund Lake s ice melts away  revealing the mystery beneath its w...
For about one month in the year, Roopkund Lake's ice melts away, revealing the mystery beneath its warers.
Live Adventure
Additional forensic investigation showed all the injuries were limited to the head and shoulders of the victims, and nowhere else. It was as if the victims had been attacked rather suddenly and violently from above. After compiling all the information, researchers came to a strange conclusion. It is surmised that the only way all the victims could have died at the same time, and with similar injuries, was to be caught out in the open during a freak and extremely violent hailstorm.
The rather sad aftermath of the discovery at Roopkund Lake
Roopkund Lake has now become a popular trekking destination and for those making the ascending five-day trek up the mountain, it is not for the purpose of admiring the scenery. More often, it is thrill-seekers looking for the macabre in the trip to Skeleton Lake.,
With so many people visiting the lake, skeletons, and personal items are disappearing, and with little monitoring or maintenance at the site, its history is in danger of being lost forever. Perhaps the country should think about putting restrictions on travel companies taking travelers to the lake. If nothing is done, the skeletal remains will become nothing more than "souvenirs" for tourists, and that is a desecration itself, to the lives of those travelers.
Do you believe a freak hailstorm was responsible for the deaths of all those people? Tell us what you think.
More about glacial lake, roopkund lake, Himalayas, Skeletons, Hailstorm
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