Mystery behind Roopkund Lake unearthed

Oct 30 2004, 13:43 IST
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Finally the mystery has been demystified.

The Roopkund riddle, dating back to the 9th century AD, that haunted scientists, historians and mountaineers from around the world for many years, has finally been cracked. The National Geographic Channel with the help of scientists and anthropologists from India and abroad has cleared many theories and myths surrounding the age-old tragedy.

It all started in 1942, when a forest ranger accidentally unearthed a mass grave in Roopkund Lake, an area 16,000 feet above sea level in Uttaranchal. With hundreds of skeletons strewn on the slopes of the Himalayas this colossal tragedy shook people worldwide.

Several theories were put forth to explain this riddle, which were further perpetuated by local folklore. Was it a royal pilgrimage or a vanquished army? Did they die in ritualistic suicide or in an epidemic? Or could they have been a group of Tibetan traders who lost their way?

Then for the first time National Geographic Channel sent up a team of Indian and international scientists led by cultural anthropologist Dr William Sax (Head of the Anthropology Dept at Heidelberg University, Germany) to reveal the truth. The other key members included Dr Walimbe, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology, Deccan College, Pune, Prof Rakesh Bhatt of India's Garhwal University, Paleopathologist Dr Pramod Joglekar of the Deccan College, Pune and Dr MPS Bhist, a Himalayan.

It started out as a regular excavation where the team retrieved several hundreds of bones and artifacts strewn on the slopes.

However, the most remarkable find came a bit later when the team discovered a body. It proved to be a rich source of DNA material. Over the period of a year, as the test results from different laboratories around the world started coming in, the various pieces of the jigsaw started falling into place.

National Geographic Channel has made a documentary film called Skeleton Lake detailing the latest findings and the truth behind the tragedy. The programme will be aired on National Geographic Channel on November 9, 2004 at 10 pm. The programme was produced by Miditech (Pvt Ltd), directed by Chandramouli Basu and written by Niret & Nikhil Alva.

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