Altyn Emel: The Singing Sands of Kazakhstan

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.

Altyn Emel

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

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?

Sand Dunes at Altyn Emel national park

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

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?

  1. All the sand grains must be round and between .1 and .5 mm in diameter.
  2. The weather must be very dry.
  3. 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.

Genghis Khan cooking menhirs at Altyn Emel

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

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.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

The singing sand dunes of Altyn Emel National Park seem endless. We went in the late afternoon when it was cooler and the light was better for photos

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

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 Sand Dunes

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

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

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

The trail of footprints in the sand leads back to the car which is on the other side of the the highest dune.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

img_6983

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

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

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

Altyn Emel Singing 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.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

As the sun was setting there was a brisk westerly wind that picked up. You can see it whipping up the sand over the ridge. However, the wind blows from both directions otherwise the sand dunes at Altyn Emel would have vanished long ago.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

We had walked along this ridge just a short time before the photo was taken. However, the wind had already wiped away our footprints.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

I am sitting in the sand editing photos on my camera.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

My guide is catching up with me as I sit waiting for him on the other side of the highest dune.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

Walking back to the car after spending a few hours on the Singing Sand Dunes at Altyn Emel.

Altyn Emel Singing Sand Dunes

My guide was an excellent photographer. He made me envious with several of his photos!

 

Additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altyn-Emel_National_Park
http://caravanistan.com/places/singing-sand-dune/
http://www.silkadv.com/en/content/singing-dunes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_sand