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Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes Mongolia

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes Mongolia

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes - Gobi Desert - Mongolia

The Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes in Mongolia, locally known as Duut Mankhan or the Singing Sands, are the largest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert. Despite their size, they account for only 3-5% of the Gobi Desert’s vast expanse of 500,000 square miles. These majestic dunes are part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, the largest national park in Mongolia. (Bayanzag, also known as The Flaming Cliffs, is part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.)

Herding families living alongside Khongoryn Els reside near the banks of the essential Khongoryn Gol. This small river fosters a unique microclimate and ecosystem, supporting the growth of grasses, plants, and edible berries, creating a habitat for various insects and bird species. Common birds in this area include fork-tailed swifts, desert wheatears, northern lapwings, and desert warblers.

The sand dunes extend approximately 180 km in length and 12 km in width, situated in a valley between the Bayan Tsagaan Mountains to the north and the Zoolon and Sevrey Mountains to the south. The tallest dunes, located near the northwestern end of the dune field, rise around 200 meters from the valley floor.

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes Mongolia

The dunes align with the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan and the Sevrey mountain ranges. The prevailing wind funnels through the corridor created by these mountain chains, sweeping lighter grains from the surrounding desert and piling them into a great wall along the lowest section of the outwash plains, with lower dunes behind it, similar to a rain shadow. The dunes are not static; their constituent parts move while the overall form remains permanent. Digging into the dunes reveals dampness beneath the surface, indicating that the surface sand must be constantly renewed to prevent drying out.

The sands mostly sing when the wind blows from the east to the west – when the grains of sand with a layer of silica are set moving by the wind, vibrating together to make a deep hum.

Here at EL, we do not promote or arrange activities involving quadbikes, 4x4s, or motorbikes driving on or crossing the dunes. Our tour vehicles use an established sand road when crossing the dunes to access Sevrei and other points to the south. We discourage the use of motorized vehicles on the dunes due to the noise, pollution, and disruption they cause to the fragile ecosystem. Mongolia’s sand dunes host a variety of plants and wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, and insects that rely on the desert sand environment. Driving over the dunes destroys their natural habitat, including breeding grounds, holes, and activity areas. Instead, we promote low-impact activities. Naturally, the dunes attract high visitor numbers – especially at sunset. That’s why we recommend taking an extended camel trek so that you can explore the immense landscapes away from the crowds –

The Legend Of The Camel, The Deer And The Horse

Long ago, when animals could talk, the camel had magnificent antlers and a long, thick tail. One day, while drinking from the river and admiring his reflection, a deer approached him.

“Hello, Camel,” said the deer. “I have been invited to an assembly of animals this evening, but my forehead is so bare. I wish I could go with beautiful antlers like yours. Could you lend me your antlers for tonight? I’ll return them tomorrow when you come for a drink.”

The camel, proud but kind-hearted, took pity on the deer’s situation. He gave his antlers to the deer, saying, “Return them tomorrow when I come for a drink.”

On the way back, the deer met a horse and explained how he got the antlers. The horse then approached the camel, still at the river, and said, “I’m going to a horse race, and I’m sure I’d win if I had your tail.”

“No,” said the camel. “I have already lent out my antlers and can’t loan out my tail as well.”

“Don’t worry, brother. I’ll bring it back tomorrow after the race,” the horse replied.

“Alright, but make sure you bring it back,” said the camel, handing over his long, bushy tail.

Many months and years passed, but neither the deer nor the horse returned the antlers or the tail. The camel repeatedly asked for them back, but the deer always replied, “I’ll give you back your antlers when the goat’s horns have grown to heaven, and the foolish camel’s tail has grown down to the earth.”

This is why the camel sadly shakes his head when he drinks. Sometimes you’ll see him stretching his neck and gazing longingly, hoping the deer and horse will return his antlers and tail. The deer must change his antlers yearly because the luck of having antlers did not belong to him but to the camel. As for the horse, he shies away whenever he meets a camel.

If you’re inspired to visit this region of the Gobi, get in touch for ideas on how we can help you explore the Gobi Desert. Learn more about the Gobi here and here.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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