British Guards in Roopkund, India, made a discovery in 1942, involving a frozen lake more than three miles above sea level. What made this discovery so unusual was that the lake was surrounded by hundreds of skeletons… human skeletons. When the ice melted during the summer, more remains were uncovered floating in the water and laying around the edges of the lake. Because this was during World War II, some feared that the skeletons were of Japanese soldiers who had died while sneaking through India, causing the British government to send a team of investigators to determine the truth. Their fears of a Japanese land invasion were discovered to be unnecessary, though, when their examinations turned up evidence of the bones being much older. After dubbing the lake “Skeleton Lake”, many theories to explain the phenomenon surfaced, including epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. These theories held sway for nearly six decades, without any real light upon the mystery.
It wouldn’t be until 2004 that a scientific team in league with National Geographic Magazine retrieved about thirty skeletons, some with flesh and hair still attached. With these, they began to uncover the truth, and their answers startled them. For starters, all of the bodies dated to roughly 850 AD. Two distinct groups of people emerged from the DNA evidence: one of a family, tribe, or closely related individuals, and a smaller secondary group. With the uncover of rings, wooden artifacts, iron spearheads, leather shoes, and staves of bamboo, experts came to believe that the group was made up of pilgrims heading through the valley, being assisted by local porters. Roopkund, being surrounded by rock-strewn glaciers and snow clad mountains, makes for a good trekking destination. A local legend says that the king of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, along with his pregnant wife, servants, dance troupe and others went on the pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine. Even today, pilgrims attend the Nanda Devi Raj Jat that takes place once very twelve years at Roopkund, during which the Goddess Nanda is worshipped.
Further analysis of the skulls showed that the people died from similar methods, irrespective of their stature or position… by blows to the head. However, because of the cracks in the skulls, it was determined that these killing blows were caused not by weapons, but by something round. Further inspection of the head and shoulders provided proof that the blows came from above, leaving scientists to come to one singular unexpected conclusion: the hundreds of travelers died from an unexpected, freakish hailstorm. While hail is rarely lethal, these ninth century travelers could not escape the sudden onslaught of these “rock-like spheres of ice” without shelter, which they lacked. It is said among Himalayan women that there is an ancient and traditional folk song that describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who deviled her mountain sanctuary that she would rain death upon them by throwing hailstones as hard as iron. There may be some truth to this legend, as nearly twelve hundred years after this unusual storm, the green-tinged bones of the hail victims were left to circle the lake, preserved along with their shoes.