In 1942, a member of the British forest guard discovered the skeletons of dozens of invading Japanese soldiers in a frozen lake in northern India amidst the Himalayas. Authorities were immediately notified and military experts dispatched. Japan had already expanded into China; a move into British-controlled India was on everyone’s mind. A mountain crossing was a real possibility. The Roopkund valley seemed like an unlikely choice for an invasion force, but it was not an unthinkable tactical decision.
Subsequent investigation demonstrated the fears were unfounded. The skeletons were determined to be too old to be from Japanese invaders, but their real origin were a mystery. As investigations continued the weather shifted, causing the frozen lake to melt… and reveal dozens of additional skeletons.
Someone or something had killed more than 200 people and dropped their bodies in an obscure mountain pass.
Theories abounded as to the identities of the victims and the rationale for the mass murder. Despite the difficulty people had in reaching Roopkund, it became a kind of tourist destination for medical academics. More than three miles above sea level, researchers came to study and speculate.
The extreme cold and regular icing acted as a preservative, keeping fragments of clothing and equipment available for researchers. Using them, historians were able to identify the time of the mass death to be in the late 9th century.
In 2013, seventy years after the skeletons were discovered, technology improved to a point where evidence-based conclusions could be drawn. The results were disappointing to some, satisfying to others.
DNA testing determined that a large percentage of the people belonged to the same family. The death blows were similar for all of them. Shallow, rounded fractures to the skull. No weapons were used in that area which would have resulted in such damage, but folk tales from the vicinity provided the final hint. One story presented a suitable event being initiated by an infuriated goddess… a hail storm. While hailstorms are rare in that area of India, on the occasions they develop the stones can be the size of fists.
This supposition was tested… and it fit all of the available facts, standing up to independent analysis. Over the last decade, death by hail has been accepted as the fate of the unknown family and their retinue who attempted to cross the Himalayas long ago. Caught in a valley with no shelter, the travelers were struck down by a freak storm and the obscurity of the location kept the bodies from being discovered for more than a thousand years.
One more mystery of the ages has been solved. For those who wish to view the site it remains available for public view, but as there are no roads and it is in the middle of a mountain range it would be wise for any visitors to prepare beforehand. And, if possible, bring a sturdy helmet.
Question of the night: what’s your worst storm experience?