A glacial lake full of human skeletons
When summer came and the ice melted, hundreds of more skeletons were revealed, some with flesh and hair still attached. Who, or what, had killed so many people, turning a remote high-altitude lake in an uninhabited part of the Himalayas into a mass grave?
Everyone from locals to expert anthropologists speculated on how Skeleton Lake came to be, wrote Varun Ojha. Theories ranged from epidemics to landslides to ritual suicides.
A 2004 expedition offered more clues. The skeletons were the remains of 200 to 300 people dating to back the 9th Century, and were divided into two distinct groups: a closely related family or tribe, and a smaller, shorter group of locals. They were found with rings, spears, leather shoes and bamboo sticks. Short, deep cracks in the skulls suggested all of the bodies appeared to have died in the same way, from blows to the head from rounded objects, not weapons.
A dark secret lurks at the bottom of this Himalayan lake
All 200 to 300 people, scientists concluded, died from a hailstorm of biblical proportions. Thousands of cricket ball-sized, hard-as-iron hailstones pounded the heads and shoulders of a group of pilgrims and their porters travelling through the area. Trapped in a valley with nowhere to hide, the entire group perished in a mass death that still fascinates fearless visitors to this day.
Travellers to the region can still see the skeletons, although summer is the best time to visit as the bones at the lake’s bottom can only be seen when the ice melts.
An island swarming with flesh-melting snakes
Visiting Brazil’s Ilha da Queimada Grande is forbidden. That’s because the island, located 33km off the state of Sao Paulo, is swarming with venomous snakes.
Snake Island, as it’s called, is home to an estimated 4,000 venomous Bothrops insularis, also known as golden lanceheads, a critically endangered species that got trapped on the island when rising sea levels covered up the land that connected it to the mainland. The Brazilian navy closed the island in the 1920s to protect the snakes from humans – and to protect humans from the deadly snakes. The golden lanceheads grow to more than half a metre long and possess a fast-acting poison that melts human flesh. According to some estimates, there is one snake to every square metre of the island.
“The venom causes a grab bag of symptoms, which includes kidney failure, necrosis of muscular tissue, brain hemorrhaging, and intestinal bleeding. Scary stuff, to be sure,”
A real-life hell on Earth
It was a scientific expedition gone horribly wrong. In 1971, a group of Soviet scientists set up a drilling rig to assess what they thought was a substantial oil field in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert.
In fact, the ground beneath the rig was a massive natural gas field, which collapsed into a gaping crater upon the scientists’ arrival, swallowing the rig and their camp. Fearing the spread of poisonous methane gas, the scientists set the crater on fire, ripping open a hellish pit of vicious flames just beneath their feet. They hoped the gases would burn off within a few days or weeks.
DOOR TO HELL
That was four decades ago. Today, the 70m-wide, 30m-deep crater continues to burn so feverishly that locals have named the fearsome abyss of fire, flames and boiling mud the “Door to Hell”.