I must have seen them before but they never caught my attention. It was only when I started trekking in the Himalayas that I actually started noticing them – stones neatly stacked one over the other and standing in a delicate balance. I learnt that cairns is what they are called.
A cairn is nothing but a stack of stones or rocks that are delicately placed one over the other balancing them in the form of a pyramid.
They are often seen in trekking trails of the Himalayas, especially around lakes and rivers. Considering that cairns find their use in navigation, this shouldn’t be surprising. But the cairns that I am talking about surely aren’t used for that purpose. With a large number of them concentrated in many places this will only cause confusion. However, cairns in reality are indeed used for marking trails across the world as its natural and supposedly causes minimal disruption to the natural environment.
As I write this, I am reminded of the first time I had seen cairns and that was long before Himalayas happened to me. It was at a temple in Tirupati that was situated beside a stream. It was a belief that if you create one, you would be blessed with a house of your own.
During my trek to Rupin Pass a few months earlier, I found clusters of cairns lavishly scattered right on the path of Rupin River, on an elevated exposed area. The river was making its way around this little clearing seemingly unaware of these human interruptions right there on its path.
This was at the lower waterfall campsite where we were privileged to share nature’s bountiful wilderness for a day. Lower waterfall is an astounding amphitheater of wide meadows, tall mountains, and effusive waterfalls. The main three-tier waterfall continues as Rupin River on the ground, quietly meandering for a little while as if resting a bit before unleashing its unrestrained self.
The quiet part of the river was just beside our tents and that was where the exposed bed lay, dotted with cairns.
The shepherds passing by told us a little secret that they believed in – make wishes while building cairns, your wish is bound to be fulfilled. And, we jumped at the opportunity. What better place to make a wish than in the magical land of the Himalayas! That was the first time and the only time I build a cairn. May the mystical Himalayas grant my secret wish.
Building Cairns Maynot be a Good Idea
Recently I chanced upon an article that explains why it is not a good idea to build random cairns anywhere and everywhere. Quite an eye-opener this was for me. If you are someone like me who thinks that building cairns is just a harmless fun activity, I recommend giving this article a quick read.