Roopkund - Myths, Mysteries and Magnificence!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Last day trek from Bedni to Wan<<

Roopkund also christened as The Skeleton Lake situated at an altitude of 5000 meters (approx) in the lap of the Gharwal Himalayas is a heady combination of myths, mystery and magnificence. It falls under the realms of Nanda Devi National Park in the Uttarakhand State of Northern India.

Let’s talk about mystery – of Skeletons and Magical Mushrooms!

In 1942 a park ranger stumbled upon hundreds of skeletons in the Lake. Since then many theories have been put forward. Folks from National Geographic have also conducted a research and produced a Documentary titled – Riddles of the Dead – The Skeleton Lake. I haven’t seen it yet and if you find it, do let me know! It is believed that at least 300 to 600 people were dead around this lake sometime during the 9th century. And how did the group meet their end - A sudden hailstorm. Hails as big as a cricket ball is what some say and some say maybe the size of a TT ball. Either way, it is almost certain they did not die of an epidemic or an avalanche but because of a hailstorm. This theory goes consistent with the cracks found on the victims head. Himalayas being as cold as they were, the skeletons and few decomposing bodies were well preserved and every year when the lake thawed for a few months, the bones were seen everywhere around. But over the years, the bones have disappeared as souvenirs leaving behind a legacy soon-to-be.

Having said that, what else in mysterious about this lake one might ask. Well it is still unsure where the group was headed. There was no trade route or a pilgrimage in that direction and it has been found there were two groups of people – possible visitors and porters. But it still undetermined till date who these people were and what they were doing on that route.

Talking about the “Medicinal Mushrooms” or the “Keeda Jadi” in local language is not so much a mystery but it is sure one very interesting treasure hunt. Every spring, thousands of families flock the high altitudes of Himalayas of above 3500 meters where this caterpillar fungus is found. This magical mutant is believed to have incredible medicinal properties – as an energy booster and aphrodisiac. Needless to say it is valued highly which is why people rush braving the inclement conditions and altitudes. Keeda Jadi literally translates to insect plant. Half caterpillar, half fungus, the fungal spores eat away the insides of the larvae of ghost moth and mummifies the victim and then grows from the body of the insect. Read more about this medicinal mushroom at Wikipedia!

There you go! That was your dose of mystery and if that doesn’t help you make up your mind to go for Roopkund it’ story time! The folklore of the mountains and the lake makes for an interesting trip to the days of yore..really old days of Gods and Goddesses!

Let’s talk about Myths – Of Parvati, Shiva and the king who died!

 Legend has it that the four Vedas were written in the meadows of Bedni Bugyal.

 Maa Durga is said to have killed Demon Mahishasura near Bedni Kund in her Kali Avatar.

 Further ahead is “Ghoda Lautani” which translates to “Horses returned”. The British had to return back from this point on the ridge due to lack of fodder for the horses and hence the name. True to its folklore, further from this point, the landscape turns rocky with little pastures.

 And then comes “Pathar Nauchuni” which translates to “Dancing Stones”. Legend has it that the king who was taking the annual pilgrimage to please Goddess Nanda Devi had forgotten paying proper prayers mesmerized by the royal dancers. Goddess Nanda was infuriated but the King asked for forgiveness and in order to avoid further distractions, the dancers were cursed to transform into stones. There are a couple of big stones to be seen which can be connected to the folklore.

 A steep climb from Pathar Nachuni to Kalu Vinayak Pass would lead us to another place with an interesting folklore. This is where Lord Vinayak was standing guard while Parvati was taking bath in Roopkund Lake. It is from here that one can see the Roopkund crater for the first time.

 Further down the pass, we reach Bhaguabhasa which translates to “Abode of the Tiger”. This was where Goddess Parvati left the tiger and went ahead to take her bath in Roopkund.

 And now finally we’ve reached Roopkund. While Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva were on their way to Kailas (or maybe Trishul), Goddess Parvati was feeling very dirty after killing the demons and wanted to clean up. Lord Shiva created the Lake with his Trishul and Parvati dipped herself in the blue waters and she could see her clear and beautiful reflection in the waters which was why the lake was named Roopkund.

Every 12 years, the Nanda Raj Jat Yatra takes place and the locals of Kumaon and Gharwal believe that a  mysterious four horned ram will come which is supposed by to be very auspicious. Thousands of piligrims head  for Hem Kund Lake to pay homage to Goddess Nanda Devi. This lake  is further ahead from Roopkund and the locals undertake the journey barefoot braving the inhospitable conditions over 22 days. Read more here.

 And last but not the least, the skeletons are believed to be of Tibetan traders or Japanese soldiers who lost their way or Tuglak’s army according to various folklore. There’s also the story that goes like King Jasdal of Kanauj was on his way with his wife undertaking a pilgrimage called, “Nanda Jat” to propitiate Goddess Nanda Devi . The Queen delivered a child on the way. This made the Goddess Nanda Devi angry by spoiling Her Holy Land. A snow storm was sent down by the Goddess killing hundreds on the trail of pilgrimage.



There’s your dose of myths and folklore for each day of the trek. And if you still need something more to make up your mind here’s some magnificence.

Let’s talk about Magnificence - of Rainbows, Mountain Peaks and Top 11 things to do on Roopkund Trek.

 Watch out for the stunning play of sunlight and shadows on the mountains opposite Didna campsite.  Check out my day 1 post for more details.

 Keep a watch to be treated to the most exquisite of rainbows in the most improbable locations. There will be rainbows forming left, right, center after even a small drizzle. Look out for them everywhere. We actually spotted one below us in the valley!

 Look for the reflection of Nandaghunti in the small pond at Ali Bugyal. Take a break at Ali Bugyal and revel in the beauty of Asia’s Finest High Altitude Grassland.

 Peak spotting! Nothing as delightful as watching a huge massif in some direction. Trishul, NandaGhunti, Neelkanth, Chaukhamba range, Bandar Poonch, Gangotri, Maiktoli, Mrigthuni, Chanyakot are the peaks that can be seen on this trek.

 Watch the sunset cast its fiery red rays over Trishul and watch the clear reflections in Bedni Kund. Walk to the lake and spend the evening on the bank of Bedni Kund watching the peaks, clouds and sun create magic.

 The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture is a huge raptor found only in the high mountains. Look out for them once you reach the bugyals. Their wing span can reach to as long as 2 – 3 meters.

 Ask your local porter/guide to tell you stories of local folklore. I have told you most of the stories, yes, but still it’s an altogether different experience to hear it from them.

 Offer your prayers at Kalu Vinayak. More often than not, one tends to get spiritual at Kalu Vinayak, humbled by the mighty mountains surrounded in all directions. Go to a secluded place away from fellow trekkers and enjoy the solitude. Also look back/down and give yourself a pat on the back.

 Look for Brahma Kamal and Fen Kamal while going towards Bhaguabhasa. Brahma kamal, named after hindu god of Creation, Brahma, is a very sacred flower found only in high altitudes and seasonal as well. It is also the state flower of Uttarakhand.

 You know you have reached Wan when you’ll spot really huge Cyprus trees. These trees are so big, atleast 6-8 people will be needed to circle the bark of each one of these trees. To understand the scale of it, do try to circle any of the trees. Wan is the only place in India where you will find these trees.

Take it slow and notice the myriad flowers all along the trek. All colors and all sizes and all types one shall find!

And that's about it. Roopkund offers a grand folklore, breathtaking views and an underlying mystery which makes it all the more special. Highly Recommended!

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8 comments

  1. Very nice wrap up :-) Makes me want to go to Roopkund.

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  2. Very nicely written. Kept me hooked!

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  3. @ Aswin - go to Roopkund! :)

    @ Sharvani - Thanks.. do visit again!

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  4. Awesome post.... So many interesting places/things/sights... amazing!!!

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  5. Nicely jotted down... good work!!!

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  6. Excellent description I must say, asesome ! :)
    we are going this june, feel like charged up again :)

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  7. Good explanation. I am thinking if making my attempt this september 22nd with indiahikes.

    Thanks for sharing !!!

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  8. awesome neel... Roopkund is definitely on my list

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