Why A Lake In India Is Full Of Skeletons

“Blow wind, swell billow, and swim bark! / The storm is up, and all is on the hazard.” —William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

In A Nutshell

In 1942, hundreds of skeletons were found in a lake located in the Himalayas. For over 60 years, nobody knew who they were or how they got wiped out. There were many theories surrounding this morbid enigma, and it wasn’t until 2004 when scientists concluded that a freak, brutal hailstorm was the culprit.

The Whole Bushel

The skeletons of Lake Roopkund in India were first discovered in the mountains by a guard in 1942, at a height of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft). Until that point, they had often remained frozen in a glacier, hidden from view. But the glacier thawed every year, and they were eventually found. As they were discovered during World War II, many believed that they belonged to Japanese invaders. But the skeletons were soon estimated to be at least 100 years old, so speculation then turned to an army from Kashmir that disappeared in the Himalayas in 1841. The dates and numbers added up, so theories such as landslides, attacks, illness, and mass suicide abounded, and people generally accepted that the mystery had been solved. Not only were they wrong, they weren’t even close.

In the 1960s, the skeletons were dated again, and this time were said to have come from around 500–800 years ago, throwing the Kashmir theory out the window and fueling speculation that it might have been a failed invasion from a Delhi Sultan in the 14th century. Damage to the bones seemed to indicate that some sort of struggle had taken place, so it seemed plausible, and the hype around the mystery died down once again. Still, for the next few decades, nobody was really sure of who had died there or how.

Then, in 2004, the National Geographic Channel sent a team to investigate for their documentary Roopkund: The Skeleton Lake, and they came up with much more conclusive results. First, DNA testing found that among the roughly 200 bodies discovered, there were two distinct groups of people. It was theorized that a group of pilgrims, most likely a family attempting to cross the mountain, had hired local Mongolian people to accompany them on the journey. Second, the skeletons were much older than previously thought, and were estimated to have died around 1,200 years ago.

Finally, they managed to rule out theories such as landslides, suicide, and violence by examining the nature of the victims’ injuries. The deceased had suffered numerous blunt traumas to their heads and shoulders, but there was a noticeable lack of injury elsewhere on the bodies, and no injuries consistent with stabbing or cutting that one would expect to find on a former battlefield. The people appeared to have succumbed to death after being pelted with large spheres, which is where local legend stepped in. Nearby people have a song about a group of travelers who made their way through the mountains, but did not respect the Goddess Nanda or her mountains, so she killed them with enormous hailstones and threw their bodies into the lake. The conclusion drawn by the National Geographic Channel and other scientists was that this “myth” was grounded in reality, and a freak storm of giant hailstones was indeed the cause of their demise.

Unfortunately, the site has not been properly excavated or protected, and when the ice melts every year, hundreds of tourists flock to see this macabre attraction, many of whom may nick a bone or skull for themselves. Although only 200 have been examined scientifically, scientists think that there may be as many as 600 skeletons hidden beneath the earth, ice, and snow of the surrounding areas.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: Roopkund — The Skeleton Lake (Video)
India Today: Roopkund lake’s skeleton mystery solved (Photos)

  • trish

    Thank you…I never read about this

    • AaronDoesWords

      I have. On Cracked. Only a few days ago.

      • Akiko


      • Simon Griffin

        Breaking my golden rule about never commenting on my own stuff, but I think that’s a fair comment.

        I actually submitted this weeks ago, along with a few others. It’s annoying so that cracked put it up less than 2 weeks ago, but that’s not where I found it. Although if I were one of the authors (which I don’t if you are), I’d probably assume so

        • AaronDoesWords

          I actually did assume that the author (you, apparently) got it off Cracked. It seems that a lot of the time these two sites tend to mirror each other. However, I don’t know the wait period that you guys have to wait before Listverse puts up your articles. I do apologize for insinuating that you ripped it off Cracked. I fully believe that the timing is just inconvenient.

          • Simon Griffin

            No offense taken whatsoever. At least you didn’t post a long winded, irate comment that couldn’t be reasoned with. The wait period varies a lot, since the editors try to keep from posting similar stories several times in a row, so sometimes they’ll accept something and it might not go up for over a month. And with so many articles put up by both sites in that time, it’s sometimes too late to avoid overlap.

            Anyway, thanks for understanding. I didn’t want people thinking I lifted this from cracked, not only for my own sake, but also because doing so would be a huge slap in the face to author’s of an article I really liked

          • Kaydot Mcdiamonds

            Well the one thing that knowledgenuts has over cracked is its writing style. You guys are simply less vulgar

          • Passin’ Through

            You’re right. The #1 on that Cracked list was here a few weeks ago also.


      • Liege_Lord

        LoL I’m not the only one who noticed. They did the same with with the Nazi who teamed up with the Allies at the castle battle article. Cmon guys….

  • Ivan V.

    great article

  • absupa*

    Makes you wonder what else has been dated incorrectly.

  • The Ou7law

    This was very interesting, nice work

  • Scooter Briscoe

    Bro, that’s seriously messed up. Hail, how does it work?

    • Hadeskabir

      It’s ice falling from the skies.

  • Liege_Lord

    Wait a minute.. my spidey senses are tingling.. yup.. this article was stolen from Cracked.com’s article from 10/22/13 #2 http://www.cracked.com/article_20574_6-creepy-places-where-dead-bodies-just-lay-out-in-open.html and please don’t respond with this is a coincidence.. this is the 3rd time Knoweldgenuts has regurgitated an article from cracked, toptenz, or even other listverse articles. Lets try to keep it fresh.

  • Wawa_shabang

    Geez…how big is a family of pilgrims?! (To have left as many as 600 skeletons)

    • Al Bhat

      That is what i have been thinking…

  • Gandhar

    The lake mystery is particularly significant for a community of people from Western India, called the Kokanastha Brahmins.
    accurate origins of this community are unknown and historical records
    go back no more than 500 years. The physical appearance of this
    community are markedly different from others , with western features and
    lighter skin features. These peoples (I’m one of them) are believed to
    be recent migrants to Western India.
    How is all of this connected
    with the lake? Well, the DNA evidence from the bones suggests that the
    supposed pilgrims could’ve belonged only to this community, making this
    the earliest record of their existence. One hypothesis suggests that the
    pilgrims could actually be a group of early migrants, heading south,
    who happened to be unfortunate enough to get caught in a hailstorm. The
    fact that no important pilgrimage site exists near the lake reaffirms this hypothesis.


  • firefly

    Must have been a really big family (600?) Great article by the way!