The Kali River Goonch Attacks

The Kali River goonch attacks were a series of fatal attacks on humans believed to be perpetrated by man-eating goonch catfish in three villages on the banks of the Kali River in India and Nepal, between 1998 and 2007.


The first attack occurred in April 1998, when at 13:00, 17-year-old Dil Bahadur, while swimming in the river, was dragged underwater in front of his girlfriend and several eyewitnesses. No remains were found, even after a three-day search spanning 5 kilometres (3.11 miles). Three months later, at Dharma Ghat, a young boy was pulled underwater in front of his father, who watched helplessly. No corpse was ever found. The final attack occurred in 2007 when an 18-year-old Nepalese man disappeared in the river, dragged down by something described as like an ‘aquatic attack giraffe that swallows its prey whole’.


British biologist Jeremy Wade volunteered to capture the perpetrator. Though originally sceptical of the truth behind the attacks, he later became intrigued because the attacks only occurred in a specific area spanning 4–5 miles. He was told by the villagers that the creature likely developed a taste for human flesh and had grown large after eating half burnt human remains discarded from funeral pyres on the river banks. After examining the water where Bahadur had disappeared with a depth sounder, Wade discounted the possibility of the boy having been dragged by a whirlpool, as the attacks all occurred in areas without turbulence. Later, a kilometre away, a domestic water buffalo was reportedly dragged underwater by a strange animal while drinking in water only one meter (3 feet) deep. Wade theorised that the creature would have had to have weighed 200–300 lbs in order to do so.

All three species of crocodile possible in the area were dismissed: saltwater crocodiles are not known to travel so far inland; the jaw structure of gharials prevents them from killing humans or buffalo; and mugger crocodiles, the most common Indian species, do not inhabit the cold torrents of the Kali River. Also, crocodiles had never been seen on land to bask or breed.

Although bull sharks were initially considered, an underwater investigation in the area where the buffalo disappeared by marine biologist Rick Rosenthal yielded no sightings of bull sharks. Furthermore, Wade believed that bull sharks would not have lived so far upriver, and there had been no sightings of dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface. However, during the underwater investigation, a metre long goonch catfish was sighted, which Wade unsuccessfully tried to capture. Later underwater investigations yielded numerous group sightings of goonch, six of which were man-sized.

After an unsuccessful attempt was made at capturing one with a fishing rod, a funeral pyre was set up in order to lure one in. A record breaking 6 ft goonch was captured the day after, and was weighed at 73.0 kg (161 lbs), three times the weight of an average goonch. Although Wade estimated that the fish was strong and large enough to eat a small child, he stated on interview that he believed that larger specimens were likely to exist, and that the specimen he captured was not large enough to be the alleged man eater, on the basis of the sizes of the victims.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Kali River goonch attacks, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.
Roopkund Lake

Mystery and Skeletons Lake

In 1942, a British ranger at Nanda Devi National Park in the north of India was patrolling the mountains when he came across a lake in a canyon. At such a high altitude (over 5000 metres) Roopkund Lake had frozen entirely. When he looked in the frozen lake, he was shocked to see human skeletons.

Who goes there?

At this time during World War II the British, who were occupying India, were terrified of opposing Japanese troops approaching through the Himalayas. The ranger informed local forces and it was assumed that the people that had been found were advancing Japanese soldiers who had not made it through the mountains. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that this was not the case. But who were they and where did they come from?

The sheer volume of bodies only became apparent when the lake had thawed entirely. At the bottom of the lake were approximately 300 dead humans, nearly all of which had suffered the same fate. Their skulls and bodies showed signs of blows to the head. But still, no-one knew exactly what had happened here at Roopkund Lake.

Human Skeletons in Roopkund Lake

By Schwiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of the bodies were removed and inspected. The cold temperatures at this altitude has preserved not just the bones, but also some skin and hair. A clue lied alongside the bodies. Iron spear heads and leather slippers were found which suggested that these bodies had been here for a lot longer than anyone realised.

Now known to locals as Mystery and Skeletons Lake, the bodies and surrounding area was investigated for years, with no one getting any closer to what might have happened. For more than 60 years, the mystery went unsolved and theory after theory was put forward. Some thought it was the site of a mass suicide and others thought they might be Tibetan traders who got lost and succumbed to the altitude. But no theory would hold up under intense speculation.

Finding answers in Roopkund

In 2004, an expedition to the uninhabited region was taken by National Geographic filmmakers who enlisted the help of various professors and doctors from around the world to put an end to the mystery once and for all.

Using the latest carbon dating methods at Oxford University, the bodies were found to have come from the 9th century, long before anyone thought. Intriguingly, all of the people were found to have died at roughly the same time.

Archaeologists from Delhi University were able to ascertain that the dead were from two separate groups of people, one noticeably taller than the other. Due to some of the marking on the skulls, it is suggested that the smaller group were the porters, carrying the belongings of the taller people.

A paleopathologist at a college in Pune, India, noticed that a lot of the bones had similar abnormalities, suggesting that a lot of the dead people were related by blood, thus ruling out that this was an army. This was a group of men, women and children.

Why were they there?

There is no historical trade route to Tibet through the area, so that theory was ruled out also. The area near Roopkund Lake is, however, along an important pilgrimage route. The pilgrimage, known as the Nanda Devi Raj Jat is part of a Hindu festival that takes place every 12 years and ends right by Roopkund Lake.

Trekking path to Roopkund

Trekking path to Roopkund – By Djds4rce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This journey is a tough one because of the extreme terrain it goes through. According to local mythology, a King once took some dancers to this sacred spot. Due to heavy snowfall, the people were trapped and the dancers were transformed into skeletons and stones. A second myth is that the king’s wife was pregnant and as she was giving birth, her placenta flowed down to Roopkund and this caused the death of the people there.

How did these people all die?

There were no injuries consistent with an avalanche, so this was also ruled out. But another clue was to come from Professor Dr William Sax, the head of anthropology at Heidelberg University in Germany. He had spent years studying the local people in the area and had recalled a traditional song that the women in the area sang.

The song told of how the goddess, Nanda, would strike down anyone who did not believe in her with hailstones as “hard as iron”. As the bodies that had been found suffered injuries consistent with large, cricket ball sized objects falling from great heights, it was determined that these people had been the victims of an unexpected, violent hailstorm. The mystery that had been lying under the surface of a frozen lake for 1200 years was solved.

Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People

Trying to start a business can be difficult. Especially when you need to try and secure a bank loan in order to get your idea off the ground. In parts of northern India, it is more difficult for some people than for others.

The death of Lal Bihari

Lal Bihari had the dream of opening his own handloom company in his village of Amilo in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. When he visited the government representative, known in India as a Lekhpal, in 1977 in order to try and secure a loan for his business he was denied for an unexpected reason.

22 year old Lal was informed that he could not take out a business loan due to the fact that, according to their records, he was, in fact, dead. Unsurprisingly, he was surprised to hear this. Due to the fact that he that he was stood in the room having a conversation with the Lekhpal, he believed that he was not dead and could not understand why the government thought that he was. He was especially concerned to hear it from this government representative who knew him quite well. They had even recently had tea together. Mr Bihari was not dead when they had tea, and still wasn’t dead now.

Who killed Lal Bihari?

When he provided his proof of identity and the Lekhpal looked further into his records, it became apparent why he had been declared as deceased. At some point the previous year, his uncle had fraudulently registered Mr Bihari’s death in order to inherit his share of the family’s farm, a portion of land approximately one fifth of an acre in size.

It turns out that it isn’t especially difficult to register someone as dead in Uttar Pradesh, especially when the person is not in the immediate area. Lal Bihari’s mother had taken him away from the area after the death of his father and this gave his family the chance to claim what was rightfully his as their own. Lal went on to discover that all it took to “kill” him, was a bribe to the Lekhpal of ₹300 (Indian rupees) which at the time was approximately $33 USD or about £20 GBP.

One reason for this could be that the population of India has grown so much, the land is becoming increasingly scarce and people will resort to nearly anything in order to get their share. It doesn’t seem that difficult to declare someone as dead, as minimal proof is needed and corruption appears to be rife in parts of India. The New York Times even claims that “Bribes are required to conduct almost any public business, whether it is getting electricity turned on or filing a court case.”

Humiliation of the dead

Mr Bihari could not simply unregister his death with the same people that had knowingly incorrectly registered it just a few months before; he had to go through the courts.

When he first visited a lawyer, it is claimed that he was laughed at. “A dead man has come to me!” chuckled the lawyer. This humiliation was reinforced by neighbours who would continue to mock Lal and call him the “ghost”.

After the, perhaps, unintentional shame, the lawyer told Lal that this was quite a regular occurrence. Lal learnt that there were dozens, if not hundreds of local people who had been told the same thing in order for someone to illegally obtain land that should have been theirs.

And it could take years for his case to be heard in the courts. It is currently estimated that there are a backlog of approximately 31 million court cases in India. Lal didn’t want to be dead for that long.

Things to do in Uttar Pradesh when you’re dead

So, he decided to do something to try and speed up the process. He thought that, if he could get himself onto the public record, there would be no way that he could kept being told that he was dead.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get yourself onto the public record is to get arrested. So, Mr Bihari kidnapped his 10 year old cousin, the son of his uncle who managed to declare him dead in the first place. The family never pressed charges. A journalist who Lal spoke to at the time told him that he shouldn’t become an actual criminal in order to have his name written down on a list, and if he returned his young cousin back to his family then the journalist would publicise Lal’s case in his newspaper. After five days, Lal sent his cousin home.

The journalist was true to his word and published his story in the Swatantra Bharat, a local Uttar Pradesh-based newspaper. A government representative read the article about Lal Bihari and brought up his plight in the assembly. Lal learnt that this was happening and headed to the assembly hall with a placard to further his cause. This peaceful protest was ignored.

He later returned to the assembly hall with another plan. he obtained a visitor’s pass and tried to stage his protest inside the hall. He chanted “Mujhe Zinda Karo” – roughly translated as “Make me alive!”. By shouting abuse and throwing pamphlets explaining his “death” at police and government officials, he thought he could further his cause. He was forcibly removed from the hall and spent seven hours in prison before being released with no further charge.

Rather than actually commit another crime, Lal decided to bribe a police officer to make one up for him. He paid off an official to say that he had been taking part in riots, however when the policeman learned of why Lal was doing this, he gave back the bribe and no longer wanted to be part of the plan.

So, seeing as he was technically dead, why not try to take advantage of the situation? Lal applied for a widow’s pension for his wife but was ultimately denied. He assumed that the reason for this must be that he was not actually dead, but unfortunately that was never mentioned in the government’s paperwork.

He had managed to get the attention of a politician, Shyam Lal Kanojia, who Lal would go on to call his guru. Rather than be shamed by the “death” that was hanging over him, he told Lal to embrace it. “You are a mritak. Why not openly call yourself one to shame those who did this to you?” – mritak being the Hindi word for dead or deceased.

Mritak by name…

Now Lal Bihari Mritak had a new lease of life, albeit not legally. He was going to take his fight to another level.

To pour as much media attention as possible on his case, he decided to put himself forward in the 1988 Allahabad election that was being contested by the former Prime Minister VP Singh. Lal had sold his house in order to pay for his nomination.

Now, people all over Uttar Pradash knew the name Lal Bihari Mritak. He even managed to get 1,600 votes in the election. This began to put the wheels in motion.

In May 1994, 18 years after he was declared legally dead, an enquiry was ordered and Lal Bihari Mritak was found to be alive.

Uttar Pradesh Mritak Sangh

Over the years, many hundreds of people had got in contact with Lal, saying that they were also victims of being declared dead, and he set up the Uttar Pradesh Mritak Sangh, translated as the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People.

Dhiraji Devi is going through the courts to prove she is alive.

With no official list of members, or regular meetings, the Association is informal at best, but whenever someone is contesting their “death” other members who can afford to travel, join the protests on their behalf and tell their own stories. The Association have even begun to file the official paperwork for those in need.

Lal Bihari Mritak has taken away the taboo of being dead for thousands of people who had their property stolen from them in this way. No one has to feel the shame and humiliation of being called a “ghost” any more.

Lal went on to make up with his estranged family that had “killed him” back in 1976. He didn’t even request his land back.

Final Recognition

In 2003, Lal Bihari Mritak was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize Winners, a respected parody of the Nobel Prize, that states their awards are handed out “for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them THINK”.

Lal Bihari, of Uttar Pradesh, India, for a triple accomplishment: First, for leading an active life even though he has been declared legally dead; Second, for waging a lively posthumous campaign against bureaucratic inertia and greedy relatives; and Third, for creating the Association of Dead People.

Although Lal had managed to obtain a passport from the Indian government to attend the award ceremony at Harvard University, the United States government denied his visa request to enter the country. He sent his friend, Madhu Kapoor, to attend the ceremony for him and a few weeks later, he presented Lal with his prize in a ceremony in India.