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            Situated at an altitude of 5029 mts. in the interior of the Chamoli district, Roopkund is famous for the mysterious shallow lake of about 2 mts., with the edges covered with snow almost throughout the year. After the snow melts, skeletal remains which are believed to be 500-600 year old, many theories explain the findings but non seem satisfying. The lake is nestled amidst panoramic mountain scenery. According to the tradition the Royal family of Garhwal conducted Nanda Raj Jat to please their isht-devi, so that their kingdom would be prosperous and the enemies would be defeated. According to another legend the royal family undertakes the pilgrimage along with their purohits to seek forgiveness from Nanda Devi, and to offer ‘tarpan’ to one of their ancestors who died at Roopkund along with his pregnant wife and courtesans. Rajah Yashodhaval of Kannauj came on a pilgrimage to the dev bhoomi. His pregnant wife and women of the royal family accompanied him. He decided to go to Homkund along with his entourage. He didn’t heed to the advice that women were not allowed beyond Bedni-Kund. He broke the tradition and went ahead. At Roopkund the Rajah and his entourage perished mysteriously, most probably in a snow-blizzard. Hundreds of skeletons still lie scattered in and around Roopkund. There was a lot of controversy about the mystery of Roopkund. 

The general prejudice against the folk-lore led many scholars to 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. Along with bones of humans, bones of horses have also been found there. But this theory does not explain the presence of female skeletons. Carbon dating of the skeletons, done of Crane and Griffin in 1958 proves that the bones are indeed between 500 to 800 years old. During the Raj Jat even today, ‘tarpan’ is performed for Rajah Yashodhaval and his entourage.

            The legend of Nanda is an integral part of the socio-cultural milieu of Uttarakhand. Shrines of Nanda Bhagwati are scattered all over Central Himalayas. To most of the hill-folk Nanda Devi is their isht-devi, and at the same times their outmarried daughter (dhyani). Her relationship to the people of Uttarakhand is somewhat similar to what Sita has to the people of Mithila. Sita is the daughter of Mithila and Nanda, also known as Gaura, is daughter of Uttarakhand. 

The Nanda Devi Raj Jat pilgrimage, dating back to the 9th century, is mostly held in intervals of 12 years, when a four-horned Ram is born in one of the villages in the area.

The pilgrimage starts from Nauti village in Chamoli district on Tuesday and takes several days of trekking through the hilly terrain to reach the final destination of Homkund.

The image of the Goddess is taken on a palanquin along with offerings are taken in a procession, accompanied by bare-footed devotees. It is believed that the trek signifies Nanda's (maiden name of Parvati) journey from her maternal village to Shiva's abode in Homkund.

According to the folk songs recited during the festival, King Shalipal of Chandpur Garhi laid the foundation of the tradition. He also authorized his younger brother 'Kunwar' of Kansava to represent the royal house in the yatra with the four-horned Ram and ''chhantolis'' (traditional umbrellas) besides helping the priest perform all rites and rituals connected with the pilgrimage.

Devotees believe that the Ram moves under spiritual influence. It carries the bangles and clothes for Goddess. It is said that a four-horned Ram gets born every 12 years in Chandpurpatti of Karnprayag sub-division.

Roopkund trek and the Nanda Devi Raj Jat

Diary maintained by Mr. Parth Sharma.
A wildlife enthusiast/trekker who was invited by the Asstt. Conservator of Forest Kedarnath Sancutary, Gopeshwar, Chamoli, India  from 1-10 September 2000.

30th August 2000

We left for Gopeshwar (U.P) which is around 450 kms from Delhi, our meeting point with the Asst. Conservator of Forest of that area. We started at 4.00 a.m. and arrived at Gopeshwar in the evening at 6.00 p.m. The route is via Haridwar the last stop before the mountains start, hence 200 kms plain journey and 250 kms mountain journey. Gopeshwar is at an altitude of  5000 ft. 

The journey is very interesting as you cross through very interesting places called prayags which is intersection of two rivers at a point, and the river is the Ganges. at Haridwar all the mountain rivers meet and then it is know as Ganga.

31st August 2000

We planned everything the previous night and started off to the trek starting point at Mandoli Village which is around 95 Kms from Gopeshwar. We were in two cars/jeeps fully loaded with all trekking equipment including oxygen, rum,  etc. and other life saving stuff. 

Our group comprised of eight people. Six from forest department and two from Delhi. We covered 60 Kms very easily and reached a place called Simly from where the destination Gwaldham was only 35 Kms, but adventure had already started, there was a landslide in two places and the area could not be cleared even within next 3-4 weeks. We had no choice but to take a detour of  200 Kms only. it was a complete circle and in mountainous conditions with continues rains. We reached  Gwaldham at around 6.00 p.m. in the evening and from there onwards till Mandoli
there is no telephone, roads etc. The roads were so bad that our car got stuck in broken roads, flowing mountain waters etc., lost our fuel filter and by just taking the name of lord, we reached Deval forest rest house by around 9.00 p.m. 

1st September 2000

I parked my car at the Deval rest house and we all went in the forest vehicle to Mandoli village last village and 2 Kms from the village is Lohajung from where medical fitness certificate and registration of porters was to be done.

The forest departments duty was at the last place of camping before the four horned Ram departs at homkund. The place is called Shila Samudra which translated means Mountain Ocean, I'll come to the details later about each place. Now we had to trek one day ahead of the main Yatra of the four horned Ram, so that when we are at our destination, the place is well taken care off. the trek route was    Lohajung - Wan - Bedni Bugyal - Bagua Basa - Shila samudra - Sutol - Wan - Lohajung - Deval

Todays trek was from Lohajung (the starting point village) (6000 ft) to Wan (translates means forest) (8000 ft) which is 17 Kms. The trek was easy and nice and lots of good forest, we took ten porters as provisions for eating, tenting, sleeping, etc. was to be carried, now our group became of 18 people (10 porters). As the pace of everyone is not and cannot be the same, soon the first day itself unknowingly groups were formed, as per ones speed and stamina. I was with the porters in the leading group and the conservator with his loyal staff and father dear were in the last. The last group was lucky and spotted a leopard and a Snake on their journey to Wan. 

I used to walk  for 1 hour rest for 5-10 minutes and then again repeat the same procedure. The first day itself I saw many people walking barefoot on rough stones. We Started from Lohajung at 12.45 p.m. and I reached Wan at 4.15 p.m. The porters and second lot of the group came at around 6.00 p.m. and one of the conservators loyal came at 7.00 p.m. alone with a request that a rescue party has to go back on the track as the torches and flashlights were in the packs given to the porters. So I went back only a km or so and got the conservator and my father to our resting place. The quick fix meals in trekking is known as Khichri (mixture of
rice and pulses and vegetables cooked in a pressure cooker), that is what we used to eat and eat and no variety, it used to be a luxury if something else was served.

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