Majestic sand dunes as far as the eyes can see in the midst of a barren land and under a clear sky – this is just one of the fitting descriptions one can give to Khongoryn Els in Mongolia. Khongoryn Els is the country’s largest sand rises, and specifically lies in the Gobi Dessert. What many travelers don’t realize is that the Khongoryn Els sand dunes only occupy 3% of the entire Gobi Desert, making them an even more precious attraction for anyone visiting this part of the country.
Stretching 185 kilometers, Khongoryn Els is oftentimes referred to as the ‘Singing Dunes’ (Duut Mankhan) because of the whistling sound the sand makes whenever it is moved by the wind. These dunes will easily impress you with their enormity. Some of them can reach to a height of more than 300 meters and a width of 12 kilometers. If you want to reach the top of the biggest dunes on foot, you are in for an arduous climb that could take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. But like many things in life that require a little suffering, climbing the biggest dunes is quite rewarding at the end due to the breathtaking views you can get.
There is no public transport to the Khongoryn Els sand dunes. Most tourists who wish to visit this magnificent landscape rent a heavy duty jeep or go for a packaged tour. The main exciting activity at Khongoryn Els, aside from walking around and admiring the dunes is camel riding! Camel rides are typically included in arranged tours to the sand dunes. But if you drove your way here independently, don’t fret – local herders will usually show up and have their camels available for rent. You also have the option to have an aide to help you with the camels. If you have the budget, the camel ride on the beautiful Khongoryn Els sand dunes is truly a memorable experience. Don’t forget a camera to capture your experience!
After exploring the dunes, try to find an authentic desert oasis. A popular one is situated near Khongor Creek, on the northernmost portion of Khongoryn Els. While here, try walking alongside the creek, which covers a length of 10 kilometers. Take note that some parts of the Khongoryn Els area are difficult to navigate and drive on and it is advisable to take the desert tracks north to Bogd in Övörkhangai, or the one to Bayanlig in Bayankhongor. However, if you wish to take on these tracks, it is highly advisable to hire an experienced driver.
Companies that offer tours to Khongoryn Els usually pick up passengers from the capital Ulaanbaatar, and bring them to the base of the formation to take photographs and go for camel rides. Some of these companies combine the Khongoryn Els sightseeing with other nearby natural attractions such as the Bayanzag Red flaming cliffs, known for its dinosaur fossils.
Tours to Khongoryn Els and other sites can stretch for several days; and thus, include overnight stays at tented or ger camps in the middle of the Gobi Desert. This is indeed a treat, as you will see the golden sands glisten during sunset, and how their shadows loom under a clear evening sky. The best time to visit Khongor Sands, especially if you intend to climb a dune, is during early morning, when the air is cooler. If you are camping in the Khongoryn Els area, climbing the dunes in the evening is also a pleasant experience.