In October 2016, I successfully completed one of my high altitude Himalayan expedition to Roopkund. Roopkund is a glacial lake at an altitude of 15,750 feet in the Himalayas located in the Chamoli district in the state of Uttarakhand, India.
This expedition was organized by a professional trekking organization and the team consisted of around 21 members from different parts of the country.
History & Accessibility of Roopkund Skeleton Lake
Roopkund is commonly known as the skeleton lake of India. It lies in the lap of Mt. Trishul surrounded by rocks and snow-clad mountains.
The history of this high-altitude glacial lake goes back 200 years to around the year 1800. During that period, some 300 people including women, children and men died of a sudden hailstorm while passing through the region. The bodies decomposed, and the skeletons were left out scattered in the lake and its surrounding areas.
October till May, the skeletons remain buried under the thick snow of the frozen lake. However, till November, one can see skeletons scattered in the surrounding areas, and during the summers, ample skeletons are visible in and around the lake.
Roopkund has a small window period for the trekkers. The best time to visit Roopkund is from May to June and then again from September till October. However, Roopkund is no more open to visitors/trekkers since 2019.
I consider myself lucky enough to trek to Roopkund and spend a week in the beauty of the Himalayas and this mysterious lake. The rest of this blog will picture Roopkund with detailed description of the different places through which I travelled. Those who could not make it to Roopkund may virtually feel the beauty of the place.
Reaching the base camp of Roopkund Trek
Roopkund can be reached only by trekking. The trek starts from Lohajung which is the base camp of Roopkund. It is a picturesque place in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and is famous for being the base camp of two great Himalayan treks, Roopkund and Brahmatal. The best way to reach Lohajung is via Kathgodam which is directly connected by rail from the different Indian cities. The nearest airport to Lohajung is Panthanagar. Dehradun is considered as the second nearest airport to Lohajung.
I travelled to Lohajung from Kathgodam by road which is around 240 Km. Although shared cabs/jeeps are available from Kathgodam, I travelled by a cab arranged by the trekking organization. Starting at 8am, I reached Lohajung around 6pm and had put up in the lodge arranged by the organization.
Lohajung is a small village at an altitude of approx. 7500 feet from the sea. A few shops selling essential commodities for the villagers, one or two small eateries and a few lodges to accommodate trekkers are the main components of the village apart from the homes where the locals reside. During the beginning of October, the evening temperature was around 6 degree to 7 degree centigrade. At night, the temperature falls below zero degree. Only BSNL mobile connectivity is available in Lohajung. That too, the connection is extremely poor.
The actual trek to Roopkund starts from Wan, which is 15 Km away from Lohajungat an altitude of 7850 feet. One can travel to Wan from Lohajung by shared cabs in about 45 minutes. My travel itinerary from Wan to Roopkund and back is as follows:
6 days itinerary on the way to Roopkund Lake
Day-1: Wan to Ghaeroli Patal at approx. 8000 feet. Camp at Ghaeroli Patal. Camp site within dense oak forest. Temperature at night: -2 to -3 degree Celsius
Day-2: Ghaeroli Patal to Bedni Bugyal at approx. 11000 feet. Camp at Bedni Bugyal. Camp site on green meadow. Temperature at night: Around -5 degree Celsius
Day-3: Bedni Bugyal to Pathar Nachauni at approx. 12800 feet. Camp at Pathar Nachauni in a complete dry rocky terrain. Temperature at night: approx. -7 degree Celsius
Day-4: Pathar Nachauni to Bhagwasa at approx. 14000 feet. Camp at Bhagwasa in a rocky terrain covered with snow. Temperature at night: Approx. -8 to -10 degree Celsius
Day-5: Bhagwasa to Roopkund at 15750 feet to Junargali pass at approx. 16200 feet. No camps and night halt. Early morning temperature: Approx. -10 degree Celsius.
Day-5: Junargali to Roopkund to Bhagwasa to Bedni Bugyal
Day-6: Bedni Bugyal to Wan to Lohajung
The hike to Roopkund, Day-1
The trek started at 9am passing through some wonderful Himalayan villages, gradually moving towards a dense oak forest. The village kids will come running to you saying hello and it feels wonderful distributing candies to those lovely kids.
Gradually we moved into the oak forest. The forest is dense enough for wild bears, jackals, and cheetahs to live in. The forest officials have paved the path to a certain extent, after which, it was a natural path bypassing the big trees.
We reached our next camp site at Ghaeroli Patal around 2 pm. On the way, we had stopped by the Nil Ganga, a freshwater stream, to fill in our water bottles and relax for sometime. The water of the stream is pure, and I did not use any chlorine tablets.
The camp site at Ghaeroli Patal is amid the dense oak forest. There was pin drop silence all around. If you look upwards, the clear blue sky and the visible tips of the huge snow-capped mountains will steal your sleep and mind away. Lunch and dinner were simple with rice and dal and some vegetables with roti. We had our dinner at 7 pm and were inside our tents by 7:30-8:00 pm. The trekking organisation provided sleeping bags and they were pretty comfortable in that subzero temperature.
Day-2 on Roopkund trail
Our trek through the forest started at 9:00 am. After around 3 hours of hike, we moved out of the forest above the tree line and landed in a meadow with green grass all around. Below us we could see the tip of the giant trees, the snow-capped mountains in front and below our feet, the grass like a carpet.
Largest high altitude meadow in Asia on the trek to Roopkund
Frankly, I never dreamed ever of landing in such a wonderful place called Ali Bugyal where horses, mules and sheep seen grazing scattered. We ran bare foot, lay down on the grass and screamed in joy looking at the beauty of the place. From Ali Top (we climbed up to), Mt. Trishul was looking gorgeous. The place is like heaven on earth.
We spend around 1.5 hours in Ali Bugyal and headed towards our next camp site at Bedni Bugyal. The hike was of approx 2 hours. The scenic beauty was different for each camp site and cannot be described in words. The camp at Bedni Bugyal was amid the green meadow with Mt. Trishul standing straight in front of us and Mt. Chuakhamba on our left. Behind us at 50 meters, was a deep gorge.
Post lunch, around 3pm some of us started playing cricket. Again, never in my wild dreams thought of playing cricket at 11000 foot. Suddenly, it started raining followed by snowfall . We rushed inside our tents. Within an hour, the entire area changed to white from green. The change in scenic beauty was magnificent and not to be forgot lifelong.
The snowfall stopped around 6:30pm and after early dinner, we called off for the day by 8:00 pm. Needless to mention, the only source of light after dark were our head lamps and torch lights.
Day-3 on Roopkund trail
The days destination was Pathar Nachuni, approx. 4 hours trek from Bedini Bugyal. We went straight to Bednikund, a small lake with crystal clear water and the reflection of Mt. Trishul in it.
From Bednikund, we started hiking up-hill breaking the snow in many places. The trail was not that steep and had a different view altogether. The more we climbed, the Bugyal gradually decreased and the trail was more filled with rocks and snow. We encountered hails and snowfall multiple times on the way followed by very cold breeze till we reached our camp site.
This camp site was in a dry and windy mountain place with rocks everywhere. In front of us on the other hill, a waterfall could be seen flowing into a gorge. The sound of the flow can he heard with a bit of attention. The tremendous cold winds in this altitude made me very lazy and I went straight inside my tent to take some rest while the others went out for a short walk and acclimatisation.
Day-4 on Roopkund trail
We were told by the organizers that day-4 camp site is the most beautiful camp site in the entire trek to Roopkund. The trek is a long one with 5-6 Hours of hike uphill. We were climbing from 12800 feet to 14000 feet. The more we hiked, the rocks increased, temperature decreased, and the weather became very unpredictable. This day’s climb was a steep one till the Kalu Vinayak temple located midway between Pathar Nachuni and Bhagwasa, after which, the trail was a descend.
On reaching the camp site, I was just speechless looking at the beauty of the place. The place was surrounded by rocks, snow, and huge mountains. Since the time we reached, the weather was cloudy, very cold breeze blowing and temperature was much below zero degree Celsius. I was wondering, if nature has so much to give us, then why do we confine ourselves in the cities with all types of pollution and hazards?
Crampons (special spikes to walk on snow) were provided to us at the end of the day and were asked to get ready by 1:00 am the next day for the summit.
Day-5 on Roopkund trail
I had a mild sleep the previous night and woke up around 12:30 am. After freshening up, got ready for the final push by 1:00 am. Sharp at 2:00 am with our head lamps on, all of us were ready to start the hike. Nothing was visible except for white snow around us.
The trail was very steep and after every 5 minutes, I had to stop and sip water to get back the energy. The trek leader and guides were constantly encouraging and motivating us to climb. That was the climb to be remembered lifelong, the summit climb at midnight at a height of 15000+ feet above the sea.
Roopkund Lake at dawn
We reached Roopkund around 5:45am. The darkness had gone by then and the frozen lake with human skeletons scattered were clearly visible. It was an achievement and a moment of pride for all of us to reach the summit and experience the beauty of the skeleton lake.
450 feet above Roopkund is the Junargali pass. Many of us climbed up to Junargali from where the view was just magnificent. Mt. Trishul was just a few meters away. After a quick photo session at the pass, we started climbing down.
During descend, I could not believe myself that was the same trail we went up last night. The trail was narrow with high mountains on the left and deep gorge on the right. The landscape was complete white with a amazing environment early in the morning.
The rest is descending and to descend. We reached Bhagwasa, collected our backpacks, and then started descending directly to Bedni Bugyal skipping Pathar Nachuni.
After a long hike of 5-6 Hours, we reached the same camp site at Bedni Bugyal. It was a clear sky and the beauty was awesome. The sky at night was looking marvellous. The milky way was clearly visible with numerous stars above me.
Day-6 and Day-7 on Roopkund trail
We hiked from Bedni Bugyal to Wan where the cab was waiting for us. We reached wan around 3pm and from there to Lohajung by 4:00pm.
Day-7: It was time to bid goodbye to all our trek mates and the local people of Lohajung. We started at 7:00 am and reached Kathgodam by 6:00 pm. My train to Kolkata was at 10:00 pm sharp.
Back home from Roopkund
After coming back from the expedition, I had a pretty busy time for a week telling the facts and stories of my expedition to all my family members, colleagues, and friends. Many came to know about this mysterious lake for the first time through my FB posts. All the pics that you are viewing here are captured in my mobile phone and a basic camera as I did not had an expensive and excellent camera with me when I did this expedition.
The lake is now popular to everyone in my family and my close friends. Many of my friends wanted to visit Roopkund, but the trek is now banned by the government of Uttarakhand. The government announced that there had been a lot of damage to the biodiversity of the Bugyal and meadows that fall on the trail. Trekkers and visitors must be more responsible on their own acts while visiting such beautiful places.
General information about Roopkund Skeleton Lake
- On the trail, tents are the only means of accommodation. On tent can accommodate 2-3 people.
- Sleeping bags are the only way to keep you warm.
- Toilet tents are separately built at a distance from the other tents
- No electricity, no mobile connectivity in the trail right from Lohajung. Head lamps and torch lights are the only source of light after dark.
- Smoking and drinking strictly prohibited
- Backpack should not weight more than 10 kilograms
- Provision of carrying the backpack on mules are available with extra charges
- Proper trekking gears are necessary for this trek.
- Both physical and mental fitness is a must for this expedition.
- Roopkund is rated as moderate to tough trek
- Average temperature on the trail at night should be approx. -4 to -5 degree Celsius
- Average day temperature on the trail should be approx. 0 to 5 degree Celsius
- Bringing back skeletons from the lake is not advisable and if caught, punishable
Read the latest research update on the skeleton mystery of Roopkund by BBC here.