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Tourists to Roopkund trek back with human skeletons

The presence of human and animal skeletons in and around the Roopkund Lake has been a mystery for hundreds of years...

Written by Smakazmi | Dehra Dun |
November 12, 2007 1:12:36 am

The presence of human and animal skeletons in and around the Roopkund Lake has been a mystery for hundreds of years and a number of folk tales in higher Garhwal Himalayan region are weaved around them. But now these skeletons have started disappearing. The dwindling count in the recent past has sent alarm bells ringing in the Chamoli district administration.

D S Garbayal, District Magistrate, Chamoli, has written to the state Government about the threat to these historical skeletons. Officials said curious tourists and trekkers apart from researchers who visit the lake in summers take away a large number of skeletons every year.

“I have written to the state Government about the disappearance of skeletons. As the lake is far away — at a height of 5,029 meters near Trishul peak in the east of border district of Chamoli — and remains frozen for eight months in a year it’s difficult to guard the area,” Garbayal told The Indian Express.

Chamoli district administration has urged the state Government to declare the area as protected and undertake a fresh count of the skeletons. “Earlier there were hundreds of skeletons but only few remain. There has to be some check on people coming to the lake during summers,” said Garbayal.

There are numerous stories regarding the presence of human and horse skeletons at the lake. Some historians say the remains belong to the great Dogra warrior Zorawar Singh’s army that lost its way while returning from Tibet expedition.

However, in Garhwal Himalayas a popular belief is that Raja Jasdhaval and his wife, the Garhwali princess Rani Balampa, while undertaking Nanda Devi pilgrimage perished in a blizzard near the lake. The famous ‘Nanda Devi Rajjat Yatra’ undertaken every 12 years in Garhwal Himalayas also passes through the Roop Kund lake.

To unravel the mystery of these skeletons, the Hyderabad based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) retrieved 30 of them from Roopkund for detailed DNA tests, which claimed to have discovered some vital clues about the region of their origin.

According to state Government officials, the tests done by CCMB, Hyderabad, revealed that three of the DNA samples matched with those of a particular group of people living in Maharashtra. These were found to be 1,500 years old and the unique mutations in the ‘mitochondrial DNA’ found in the three samples was not found anywhere else in the world but only in a particular group of people from Maharashtra, who were either on a pilgrimage to Himalayas or lived there.

The CCMB had initiated the study of the DNS samples two year ago after the Department of Biotechnology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) sanctioned the three-year project to find out the truth behind the skeletons.

According to the tests, the human skeletons had injuries on their skulls proving that they were caught in an avalanche or a blizzard.

The mysterious lake attracted interest after some skeletons were found in the region way back in 1942 by a forest ranger. In 1950s an expedition of the Anthropological Survey of India was also sent to Roop Kund that brought some samples displayed at the Anthropological Survey of India museum at Dehradun.

Anthropological Survey of India scientists believe that disappearance of skeletons was alarming since it formed the rich cultural and archeological heritage of Garhwal Himalayas.

The area remains snow-covered throughout the year and it is only for couple of weeks that snow melts and the skeletons are visible. “We have asked our officials posted at Pauri Garhwal to visit the area and report,” an official of the Cultural Department told The Indian Express.

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