Khongoryn Els

Top choice dunes in Gurvan Saikhan National Park

Image by Tim Makins Getty Images

Khongoryn Els are some of the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mongolia. Also known as the Duut Mankhan (Singing Dunes – from the sound they make when the sand is moved by the wind), they are up to 300m high, 12km wide and about 100km long. The largest dunes are at the northwestern corner of the range. From afar the dunes look painted on the south horizon in front of those gorgeous granite mountains.

Up close you get more texture as the sand forms peaks that look like whipped meringue. Getting to the top (45 minutes to one hour) is exhausting; every step forward is followed by a significant backslide, and as you approach you may be sandblasted as the wind shears the lip off the dune and showers you with stinging sand, but the views of the desert from the sandy summit are wonderful. The dunes are also a popular place for organising camel treks (per hour/day T10,000/30,000, plus the same again for the guide fee). Most local herders can arrange treks. You'll have to walk the dunes yourself, but the camel can carry your gear. A two- or three-day walk through the dunes would likely be the highlight of your trip and its greatest challenge. A mini naadam featuring horse racing and wrestling is held here in August.

The dunes are about 180km from Dalanzadgad. There is no way to get here unless you charter a vehicle or are part of a tour.

From Khongoryn Els it is possible to follow desert tracks 130km north to Bogd in Övörkhangai, or 215km northwest to Bayanlig in Bayankhongor. This is a remote and unforgiving area and you shouldn’t undertake either trip without an experienced driver and full stocks of food, water and fuel.


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