Every culture seems to have its own ways of making wishes and prayers. I’ve tossed many a coin into many a fountain and blown out many a candle on a cake.
In Mongolia, the tradition revolves around the ovoo, a large stone cairn. Ovoos serve mainly as religious sites, used in worship of the mountains and the sky as well as in Buddhist ceremonies. They are also used as landmarks – important on the Mongolian steppes where there are few paved roads, let alone street signs!
The tradition for travelers is to walk around the ovoo three times, in a clockwise direction to wish for a safe journey. Three rocks are picked up from the ground and added to the pile each time you circle around the mound.
Ovoos will have tree branch or stick in the middle. Worshippers tie a blue khadag, a ceremonial silk scarf that is commonly white in color in northern Buddhist cultures, to the branch.
Some of the cairns were large enough that we could actually drive around them and others were far away enough from the road that all we did was honk the horn three times. Apparently, honking the horn is acceptable if you don’t feel like getting out of the car.
I’m not superstitious but who doesn’t want to wish for a safe journey so I took every opportunity that I could to walk around the ovoo. Besides, it was really interesting to see them up close. It’s not uncommon for worshippers to leave items behind like animal skulls, bones, and utensils. I even saw bottles of vodka and a crutch!