Introduction to Altyn Emel
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.
The Characteristics of Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes
There are 4 sand dunes, they are 4 kilometers long and 150 meters in height. The dunes are structured in a straight line and they have remained stationary for millennia. How is this possible?
The Big and Little Kalkans at Altyn Emel
Basically, the wind only blows in 2 directions which are opposite of each other. This phenomenon is made possible by what is called the Big and little Kalkan (shields). As a result, the sand dunes are protected from wind that would otherwise move the dunes or force them to deteriorate. The shields are 2 sandstone hills which are 150 meters high and 4 kilometers long.
Why Do The Altyn Emel Sand Dunes Sing?
- All the sand grains must be round and between .1 and .5 mm in diameter.
- The weather must be very dry.
- The sand must contain 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. This noise is caused by a vibration which is created when the sand grains rub against each other and also come into contact with the dry air. This electrifies them and causes them to vibrate.
Although the sand must be set in motion properly down the slope. As a result, once set in motion properly the vibration becomes very audible. Simply jumping or pushing the sound down the hill is not adequate.
Ancient Superstition at Altyn Emel
Superstition has surrounded the Altyn Emel’s singing sands since they were first discovered by the ancient nomads. Therefore, there are many different explanations for the singing phenomenon. Some of the ancients perceived the sound may come from spirits or imaginary animals. Others believed that it was created by the bells of ancient cities or underground rivers.
Altyn Emel’s Legend of Genghis Khan
Many centuries ago Kazakhstan was invaded by the Mongol hordes. As a result, we encountered 3 menhir stones that according to local legend were put there by Genghis Khan hundreds of years ago. The voracious appetites of his warriors needed to be satisfied. Thus, the stones were used as supports for a giant cooking pot that could be used to boil an entire horse at one time.
My Great Russian Guide at Altyn Emel
Unfortunately, navigation through Kazakhstan is obscure. Therefore, I acquired a good guide 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.
My Guide’s Photos From Altyn Emel
My guide was also a great photographer. After returning to Almaty he gave me a disc containing his photos from our trip to Altyn Emel. Therefore, I have posted a few of them below.