The Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes in Mongolia are known locally as Duut Mankhan – the Singing Sands. These are the largest sand dunes in the Gobi Desert. However, they represent only 3-5% of the entire landmass of the Gobi Desert (500,000 square miles). They form part of the immense Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park – Mongolia’s largest national park.
Families who live alongside Khongoryn Els make their home close to the banks of the small but essential Khongoryn Gol. This small river creates a small unique microclimate and ecosystem allowing grasses, plants and edible berries to grow and for an environment suitable for insect and bird life to flourish. Common birds found here are fork-tailed swifts, desert wheatears, northern lapwings and desert warblers.
The sand dunes stretch for about 180km long and 12km wide in a valley squeezed between the Bayan Tsagaan Mountains to the north and the Zoolon and Sevrey Mountains to the south. The highest dunes rise around 200m from the valley floor and occur near the north-western end of the dune field.
The dunes are aligned in the same direction as the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan and the Sevrey mountain range. The prevailing wind funnelling along corridor made by the two chains, seems to sweep lighter grains from the surrounding desert and pile them along the lowest section of the outwash plains into this great wall, with lower dunes behind it as if in a rain shadow. The dunes are not a static feature – the constituent parts move whilst the form remains permanent. Dig down and you will find dampness – for the dunes not to it not to dry out, the surface sand must be constantly renewed.
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.
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 long ago when animals could talk, the camel had magnificent antlers and a long, thick tail. One day, the camel went to get a drink from the river and when he saw his reflection in the water he thought to himself how wonderful he was.
At this moment, a deer approached the camel. ‘Hello camel’, said the deer. ‘I have been invited to an assembly of animals this evening but how can I go with such a bare forehead? I wish I could go with such beautiful antlers such as yours. ‘Camel, please lend me your antlers for tonight? I’ll return them tomorrow when you come for a drink at the river.’
The camel, though very proud of himself was not a bad camel and had pity on the poor deer’s bald head and situation. So he took his antlers off and gave them to the deer saying, ‘Well, return them tomorrow when I come for a drink at the river.’
On the way back, the deer met a horse and explained how he had got his new set of antlers. The horse then went to the camel – still drinking at the river – and said I’m on my way 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 I just can’t loan out my tail as well’.’‘ Don’t worry brother. I will bring it right back tomorrow after the race is over.’ ‘You’re sure?’ said the camel. ‘Alright, but make sure you bring it right back.’ The camel took off his long, bushy tail and gave it to the horse. The horse galloped away.
Since then, many months and years have passed but neither the deer nor the horse has given back the antlers or the long lovely tail to the camel. The camel has asked many times but the deer always replies ‘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’.
And this may be the reason why the camel sadly shakes his head when he comes to drink. Sometimes you’ll see him stretching his neck and gazing long and hard – wondering if the deer and the horse will bring back his antlers and tail. As for the deer, he has to change his antlers every year because the luck of having antlers did not belong to him but to the camel and he only got them by betraying the camel. And the horse? The horse, whenever he meets a camel, he shies away.
Bayanzag (also known as The Flaming Cliffs) is also part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Alternatively, get in touch for ideas on how we can help you explore the Gobi Desert or learn more here and here.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes