Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Roopkund : Transcendental Ecstasy at the Abode of Gods - (Part 1)

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" Himalaya " , the word itself sends chillness across the body and brings a new sense of feeling which reverberates in the mind always. The whole stretch of the Himalayas is a spiritual and an adventure capital.

The fascinating beauty of Himalayas is unparalleled. It attracts three groups of people - Saints , Poets and Nature Lovers. If you are game, you can trek , climb and explore the splendid valleys. There are thousands of spots in the mountains which make you spellbound. One such place is Roopkund, which is situated in the state of Uttarakhand in India.

During my several sojourns in Himalayas till date, I have heard repeatedly about the beauty of this mysterious lake and it was a dream come true when we made it possible.

Introduction to Himalayas :

Himalaya,  great mountain system of Asia forming a barrier between the Plateau of Tibet to the north and the alluvial plains of the Indian subcontinent to the south. The Himalayas include the highest mountains in the world, with more than 110 peaks rising to elevations of 24,000 feet (7,300 metres) or more above sea level. One of these peaks is Mount Everest (Tibetan: Chomolungma; Chinese: Qomolangma Feng; Nepali: Sagarmatha), the world’s highest, with an elevation of 29,035 feet (8,850 metres; see Researcher’s Note: Height of Mount Everest. The mountains’ high peaks rise into the zone of perpetual snow.

For thousands of years the Himalayas have held a profound significance for the peoples of South Asia, as their literature, mythologies, and religions reflect. Since ancient times the vast glaciated heights have attracted the attention of the pilgrim mountaineers of India, who coined the Sanskrit name Himalaya—from hima (“snow”) and alaya (“abode”)—for this great mountain system. In contemporary times the Himalayas have offered the greatest attraction and the greatest challenge to mountaineers throughout the world.

Map - Himalayan Ranges

History of Roopkund 

What happens when ice melts in the Roopkund lake?

When ice melts in the glacial tarn of Roopkund, located 5,000 metres above sea level in Chamoli district, Uttaranchal, hundreds of corpses can be seen floating. Thus gets exposed a mystery that dates back to more than thousand years and has begun to be understood only recently.
In 1942, a forest guard chanced upon hundreds of skeletons at this tarn. 
The remains have intrigued anthropologists, scientists, historians and the local people ever since. Who were these people? What were they doing in the inhospitable regions of the Garhwal Himalaya?

The matter was investigated and the speculation was put to rest: some of the the corpses were said to date back to at least a century. But nobody knew when exactly. Some British explorers to Roopkund, and many scholars attribute the bones to General Zorawar Singh of Kashmir, and his men, who are said to have lost their way and perished in the high Himalayas, on their return journey after the Battle of Tibet in 1841.
“The cracks were caused not by a landslide or an avalanche but by blunt, round objects about the size of cricket balls,” said by an anthropologist. According to anthropologists, “The only plausible explanation for so many people sustaining such similar injuries at the same time is something that fell from the sky. The injuries were mostly on the top of the skull and not in other parts of the body, so they must have come from above. Our view is that death was caused by extremely large hailstones”. Another anthropologist at Heidelberg University in Germany, cited a traditional song among Himalayan women that describes a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron”.
The team also found a ring, spear, leather shoes and bamboo staves. This has led them to hypothesize that the corpses were those of pilgrims. The scientists estimate that as many as 600 bodies may still be buried in snow and ice by the lake.

Local legends have the following explanation :

A king of Kannauj (ancient land south from Gharwal Himalaya) Jasdhawal was on an important pilgrimage to praise the Goddess Nanda Devi. Somehow he disregarded advice of religious counsellors and behaved in an arrogant way.
King took all his entourage with him including numerous dancer girls, musicians, servants. Also his pregnant wife was with him. As they reached Roopkund lake, queen delivered a child in a cave near the lake . Goddess Nanda Devi disliked the fact that dancers and musicians entered her sacred land - local customs strictly forbade it. But the worst violation was childbirth on sacred land. According to local customs newborn and their mothers are considered to be unclean for certain period of time. Thus Goddess sent a terrible storm on poor pilgrims, and they all were killed on spot. 

This legend is well known in Himalaya and there is even traditional song mentioning this event - this song mentions exactly hailstones "hard as iron" raining on the heads of sinners.

Roopkund, in myths, is the lake that erupted from the streams formed while Lord Shiva thrust his Trishul (trident) on the ground. Devi Nanda used to see her face in the lake and thus named Roopkund. 

Roopkund Lake

This Blog is divided into the following parts : 


  1. Very beautiful description and pictures. Inspired by your blog it looks like I must visit north India once with your blog list as my itinerary ;)

  2. Excellent, awesome, superb... i am short of all adjectives . I can only say HATS OFF !!! I saw and read all your blogs and some of the ward winning images also. they are inspiration for photographers and nature lovers to go to Roopkund and challenge for trekkers to complete the trip. I don't think we need any book to read about Roop kund expedition, if we just follow your blog, that is sufficient. It has given more insight to the ABC of trekking and it shows how keen you are to tell your stories through your lovely images. You are a rare species of this genre, and i can proudly tell everyone that " I am closely connected to you" !!! Thanks for the visual treat and best wishes to you and your ever adventurous sister - my pet - Ambika.

  3. Its always a treat to see your super Photography blogs ..... Your each pic is a complete story in itself .....

  4. I like the modular approached you've used ! Marvelous pictures and content is very well framed. Roopkund is been on my list! And your blog has just made it easier for me to plan! :)

  5. AWESOME!!!.. Very well written Arjun.. Fantastic writing.. That gave me chills!!.. I never knew that you are sucha good writer.. And need not mention you are fabulous photographer.. So proud of you.. Hoping to see many more wonderful pictures and stories from you.. You rock \m/.. Great going:)

  6. This is the trek I am going to do end if this year, probably ion October and this blog makes me even more excited for it! Loved the introduction and the various stories around the lake! Fab piece of writing! I did the Deoria Taal - Chandrashilla trek in peak winters last year! You check it out here - http://rougepouts.com/trek-to-chopta-tungnath-and-chandrashilla-peak-travelogue-rougepouts/

    1. Surely I will have a look. I read your Hampta pass blog, and even saw the video. It was amazing !!
      Hope you saw all the four parts in this blogpost about Roopkund !!


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