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HIMALAYAN CHARNEL

Though there were rumours for a millennium

the first officially recorded sighting

of skeletons – at more than sixteen thousand feet

around the glacial, Lake Roopkund

in Uttarukhand’s Chamoli district –

was by a border guard in 1940.

The authorities thought a company

of Japanese soldiers had frozen to death

trying to invade India from the north

via Tibet but the bones were too old.

 

There were other hypotheses. A large group –

two hundred in total – of pilgrims

and their bearers, heading to the temples

in the forested valleys of the south,

were caught in a hailstorm with no shelter,

hail ‘like cricket balls’ – a simile

befitting a cricketing nation –

that clubbed to death each man, woman and child.

 

DNA tests show most of the remains

are local, but one is from the East,

possibly Java or Japan, and fourteen

from Crete and Greece  – strayed remnants maybe

from the army of Alexander the Great?

 

The place has become popular with tourist-

trekkers, so much so the authorities

have closed off the whole area. Made

wrong-headed by the altitude, perhaps,

back-packers secreted skulls as souvenirs.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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6 Responses
  • Alex Cox
    September 30, 2021

    Poetic journalism!

  • Mary Clark
    October 1, 2021

    I never heard of this. A new puzzle. It reminds me of our Donner party. Haunting poetry.

  • Ian Craine
    October 1, 2021

    Do we know the possible range of dates for these remains?

  • David Selzer
    October 1, 2021

    I’m indebted to a journalist friend in Jakarta, Steve Crewe – who is currently battling lung cancer – for the material which inspired this poem, and a number of others published on the site and to be published. Steve and I were at High School together – some considerable time ago! – and reconnected via my website.

    Thank you for reminding me of the Donner party – which also reminds me that I’ve been mulling over a poem about Lewis & Clark for some twenty years!

  • David Selzer
    October 1, 2021

    Please see:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roopkund#Human_skeletons

    I made an aesthetic decision to only suggest the timescale rather than describe it explicitly.

  • Ashen Venema
    October 2, 2021

    Fascinating.

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