The Cairn Craze

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.

IMG_6022
Pic 1: One of the several cairns at Chandrataal Lake in Spiti Valley 

[Here’s my experience of Chandrataal]

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.

Dhan S 1
Pic 2: Cairns beside the Rupin River.

[Here’s my experience of Rupin Pass]

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.

https://www.hcn.org/articles/a-call-for-an-end-to-cairns-leave-the-stones-alone

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

60 thoughts on “The Cairn Craze”

    1. The actual purpose is marking trails but people do it for fun as it is associated with superstitious thoughts and beliefs, like you can make a wish. Some people may also feel that they are leaving their presence behind. Cairns are also known as prayer stone stacks, so people may be associating them with spirituality also.
      Thanks Reema for stopping by, good to see you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Have seen them mostly in the lakes and rivers of Himalayas. Amazingly there aren’t any in the lakes and rivers of NE hills. Hope the craze doesn’t start there. Thank you Arvind for reading and commenting.

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                    1. That’s what 😦
                      I keep thinking that there should be some kind of enforcement on us to minimise our footfall to remote virgin places, like Himalayas. Maybe something like fixing the number of people who can go there in a year. Hopefully we (the authorities) don’t wake up when its too late.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. I don’t know how effective that will be, Neel? We all know the sheer number of regulations and laws we have in this country, but then what about enforcement? I don’t think I need to mention anything further about this.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. You’re right. We cannot control the mindset of people as 80% still don’t care or perhaps don’t understand the seriousness of all of this. Nature teaches us lessons (Kerala right now) always but do we learn? I don’t think.

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  1. This is Amazing Neel, In Bangalore we can find a Hill temple named ” Suverna muki devasthana” which in bannerghatta.. In the place I have seen Cairn… Craze… with small stones.. but this is great fact.. you shared.. I never knew.. in Himalaya.. region this can be seen.. Supab post 👌👌👌

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    1. Akshay, I first saw cairns in a temple in fact as mentioned at Tirupati. It was associated with a superstition. I started noticing them only when I went to the Himalayas. However, when I chanced upon the article, I realised that this simple innocent human activity might not be a Good thing to do for the environment especially in natural places like mountains and lakes. Thanks again Akshay for stopping by 😊

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    1. True Ankit. In fact, I did it too without knowing. This article made me see things in a different way. It’s applicable to many other things also. Thank you again for always finding time to visit my blog 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We have occasionally seen cairns along the road, especially near seashores. But lately our national parks have discouraged them. With hundreds of thousands and even millions of visitors, they quickly become problematic and disrupt the environment.

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    1. I am so glad to have learnt about this. I never looked at cairns from this angle. Now I am aware and will spread the word wherever I go, Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  3. Here in Europe you usually find them only high in the mountains above 2,000 m in order to mark the trails in case snow covers the normally painted signs to be found on rocks or the ground, in very foggy zones also very common and really helpful. Have you ever lost the path late in the afternoon while cairns or other trail signs were missing? Not so nice at all.

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    1. Giving directions is the only purpose it should be used for, everything else will interfere with this very important purpose.
      In India, I am sure most people are not even aware about the purpose of cairns.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As with “banactee”, here in the Sierra Nevada mountains and most of the higher mountains in the US, they’re a traditional way to mark a trail through open terrain or over glacially cleared rock. But recently, I’ve started encountering them in Yosemite National Park in clusters as “art”, I guess. However, I just see them as defacing the natural environment.

    In parts of Canada, there’s a traditional practice among certain First Nations tribes of stacking particular shapes of stones known as “inuksuk”. They’re viewed as a **substitute for a person** in that they may give directions, claim territory, or perform a duty during hunts or other activities. Interesting perspective. A roughly human-shaped inuksuk was used as the symbol for the Canadian Winter Olympics.

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    1. The clustering without any cause seems to be quite a recent phenomenon in the Himalayas too. It’s interesting to know about the inuksuks. I vaguely remember reading about this practice somewhere. The practices and rituals existing in various parts of the world is intriguing, many of which we don’t know.
      Thank you so much for visiting and reading and then leaving behind your thoughts 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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