The Singing Dunes of Kazakhstan

Altyn Emel is a National Park in Kazakhstan. The park is located about 200 kilometers outside Almaty and is about 4600 square kilometers in size. There is a diversity of attractions at the park however, the “singing sand dunes” are the main destination. They do in fact “sing”, however the sand dunes are also scenically spectacular.

Altyn Emel Sand Dunes
There is a tremendous panoramic view from the top of the sand dunes at Altyn Emel National Park

Kalkan Wind Shields at Singing Dunes

There are 4 sand dunes, they are 4 kilometers long and 150 meters in height. Additionally, singing dunes Kazakhstan have remained structured in a straight line for millennia. How is this possible?

Unique Kazakhstan sand dunes
The sand dunes at Altyn Emel are stationary despite strong wind and loose sand. See lli River in the distant background.

Basically, the wind only blows in 2 directions which are opposite of each other. Additionally, the Big and little Kalkan (shields) act as deflectors and keep the sand uniform. Otherwise, the singing dunes Kazakhstan would disperse and they would have disappeared long ago. The shields are 2 sandstone hills which are 150 meters high and 4 kilometers long.

Why do the Singing Dunes in Kazakhstan Sing?

  1. All the sand grains are round and between .1 and .5 mm in diameter.
  2. The weather is very dry.
  3. The sand contains silica.

If all the conditions are in order, then the sand will emit a deep humming or rumbling sound. However, sometimes it can sound like booming or roaring. A unique vibration creates the noise when the sand grains rub against each other and also come into contact with the dry air. As a result, they become electrified and it causes them to vibrate.

However, the sand must flow properly down the slope. As a result, once in motion properly the vibration becomes very audible. Simply jumping or pushing the sound down the hill is not adequate. Listen to the Altyn Emel sands sing in this HD video.

Ancient Superstition at Altyn Emel

Superstition has surrounded the singing dunes Kazakhstan since they were first discovered by the ancient nomads. As a result, different explanations have developed over time for this natural singing phenomenon. Some of the ancients believed the humming sound comes from spirits or imaginary animals. However, others think it sounds like the bells of ancient cities or underground rivers.

Legend of Genghis Khan in Kazakhstan

The Mongol hordes invaded Kazakhstan many centuries ago from the neighboring Mongolian steppe. Indeed, the voracious appetites of the Mongol warriors needed to be satisfied. According to local legend, these 3 menhir stones were used as supports for a giant cooking pot. The cooking pot was very large and could boil an entire horse at one time.

menhir stones
Giant menhir stones at Altyn Emel were used by Genghis Khan’s army to support a giant cooking pot.

Additional Photos from Altyn Emel Singing Sands

Unfortunately, navigation through Kazakhstan is obscure. Therefore, I acquired a good local guide in Almaty to take me to Altyn Emel National Park and this turned out to be a wise decision. He was also a great photographer and historian.

After returning to Almaty my guide gave me a disc containing his photos from our trip to singing dunes Kazakhstan. Therefore, I have posted a few of them below.

Sand dune ridge Kazakhstan
The singing sand dunes of Kazakhstan seem endless. We went in the late afternoon when it was cooler and the light was better for photos
Highest sand dune Kazakhstan
This is a photo of me standing on the summit of the highest dune at Altyn Emel Singing Sands. My guide was an excellent photographer.
Altyn Emel Singing Sands

Kazakhstan singing dunes
I am just a speck on the face of the giant sand dunes at Altyn Emel.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes
Wandering through the endless sand dunes at Altyn Emel was a very solitary experience.

Altyn Emel National Park Sand Dunes
The views were fantastic with the sun setting off to the left of the dunes. It created a shadow on the right side. That side is also shielded from the winds and it is where the sand sings the loudest.

Kazakhstan giant sand dunes

Strong Winds Altyn Emel
As the sun was setting there was a brisk westerly wind that picked up. However, the wind blows from both directions otherwise the sand dunes at Altyn Emel would have vanished long ago.
Sand Dune Ridge Line
We had walked along this ridge just a short time before the photo was taken. However, the wind had already wiped away our footprints.
winds Altyn Emel
I am sitting in the sand editing photos on my camera.
Walking down Sand dunes
Walking back to the car after spending a few hours on the Singing Dunes at Altyn Emel.

Additional resources:

http://caravanistan.com/places/singing-sand-dune/
http://www.silkadv.com/en/content/singing-dunes