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Dunhuang's Mingsha Mountains (Singing Sand Dunes)

Dunhuang's Mingsha Mountains (Singing Sand Dunes)

Written by Candice SongUpdated Feb. 4, 2021
Mingsha MountainMingsha Mountains

In ancient times, Chinese caravans traveled across the Mingsha Mountains in Dunhuang along the Silk Road to Central Asia and Europe. The camels marched slowly across the vast desert. When the wind blew, the dunes made a sonorous sound. The “singing” mingled with the sound of camel bells, adding a touch of life to the silent desert.

Now, at the Mingsha (‘Singing Sand’) Mountains, you can enjoy the beautiful wavy shapes of the smooth yellow dunes against the deep blue sky, listen to the shifting sand, and imagine you are traveling the ancient Silk Road.

  • Location: 28 km from the Mogao Caves — about 30 minutes’ drive
  • Open: 6am–7:30pm
  • Typical touring time: 2–3 hours
  • Best seasons: May to October

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What to Do at the Mingsha Mountains — Fun Experiences

At the Mingsha dunes, you can throw yourself into experiencing the boundless desert in all sorts of ways. Run with bare feet on the soft sand, appreciate the sunset on the tops of the “mountains” (huge dunes), ride a camel, slide down the dunes, fly a glider, and more.

1. Ride a Camel

Ride a Camel in Mingsha MuntainRide a Camel

Riding a camel on the Mingsha Mountain desert is a great experience. The journey takes about 30–40 minutes. As the camel carries you slowly across the desert, you can imagine how it felt when caravans crossed the desert over 1,000 years ago. Step off the camel and listen for the “singing” of the sand.

2. Sand Sliding

You can ride a “sandboard”, sliding from the top of dunes. As the wind whistles in your ears, the dunes echo to the sound of the slipping sand. You will experience the speed and fun of sledging, but in a hot environment.

3. Ride a Motorcycle/SUV

Ride a motorcycle or SUV to traverse the up-and-down of the rolling dunes freely and enjoy the vastness and beauty of the desert.

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4. Take a Glider

An experienced pilot will take you flying in the glider. You'll see stretches of sand dunes, get panoramic views of the Mingsha Mountains and Crescent Lake and experience the excitement and fun of flying in the blue sky.

5. Appreciate Sunrise and Sunset

SunsetSunset at Mingsha Mountains

The Mingsha Mountains at sunrise and sunset are undoubtedly at their most stunning. The sun rises and sets slowly, hugging the horizon. The golden light drips over the wavy shapes of the smooth yellow dunes.

To catch the sunrise, you should get to the top of the Mingsha Mountains before 6am in summer. The sunset at Mingsha Mountain happens at 7:30–9pm according to the time of year.

6. Go Camping

It would be an unforgettable experience to camp in the desert. You can watch the sunset in the evening. At night, you will see the sky studded with twinkling stars. We recommend having a BBQ and enjoying a campfire party. There will be a beautiful sunrise waiting for you the next morning.

Tips for Visiting the Mingsha Mountains

  • July and August are very hot in Dunhuang. If you are visiting during this period, we suggest visiting the Mingsha Mountains after 5pm.
  • Prepare sun protection: cap, sunglasses, sun-proof clothing, etc. Being exposed to direct sunlight there can easily get you sunburnt. A face mask or a scarf can keep sand from blowing into your mouth.
  • It is best to wear comfortable, breathable clothes and shoes as you will do some dune walking and other activities. Sand will easily get into your shoes when walking, but you can rent shoe covers provided by the scenic area.

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Why the Sand Can “Sing”

So far, nobody has provided a satisfactory answer. According to some Japanese experts, there are probably ancient palaces under the dunes, while the Russians deem that quartz content in the sand is the main reason.

Chinese scientists have carried out a study as to the cause of the singing sand for years and they conclude that it is a phenomenon of resonance.

Legend has it that this area was once a flourishing mountain called the Qingshi Mountains (‘Bluestone’ Mountains) in ancient times. At the foot of the “mountain” (huge dune), beside Crescent Lake, were clustered many sacred temples. Operas were shown to worship the Temple God on each temple fair day.

However, the deafening sounds of celebration one year annoyed the sleeping Yellow Dragon Prince in a nearby desert. The prince was cruel, cranky, and powerful. He used his magical power to move a huge volume of sand dunes into the area and buried all the people underground. Those souls often cry, beat drums, and hit gongs to bemoan their misfortune. This is the legend of the singing sand.

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Other Special Features of the Mingsha Mountains

Mingsha Mountains Mingsha Mountains

These dunes are not only unusual for the noises that can be heard from the sand, but also the pristine state they return to every night, all footprints immaculately erased.

As you approach you become aware that the sand has many colors ranging from red to yellow, green, black and white.

On days when a strong wind blows, the fast-shifting sand roars, but when the wind is little more than a light breeze, the sand produces gentle, dulcet sounds akin to music.

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Nearby Attraction — Crescent Spring

Crescent Spring is situated at the foot of a particularly large and cuspid dune — the Mingsha Mountain, most famous of all the surrounding Singing Sand Dunes. Both of them set each other off, outstanding in the boundless desert.

From the top of the Mingsha Mountain or some higher locations, you can get a full view of the idyllic lake.

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