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Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

Situated five kilometers (about three miles) south of Dunhuang City, the Echoing-Sand Mountain is celebrated for the sound of the moving sand. In 1994 it is listed as the national key scenic spot. The Echoing-Sand Mountain, the Crescent Spring and the Mogao Grottoes art landscape merges into a whole which has become a popular tourist attraction all around the world.

It is 800 square kilometers in size, stretching 40 kilometers from east to west and 20 kilometers from south to the north. The main peak is 1,715 meters above sea level. Its ridges and peaks are known to be as sharp as a knife.

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

The legend of Echoing-Sand Mountain

There is a legend that says that, in ancient times, a general with many soldiers came here to fight in a war with their enemies. While they were engaged in a fierce battle, a great gust of wind buried all the warriors in the sand and the sand mountain was formed. As the battle was at its height, the soldiers continued to fight beneath the sand. Thus, the sound head is said to be the roar of the soldiers. However, the real cause is the friction and static created as the wind shifts the sand or you slip down the mountainside.

Echoing-Sand Mountain, which means "singing sand mountain," though it is not really a mountain, but a giant sand dune.

The sand of the mountain has many colors ranging from red to yellow, green, black and white. When a strong wind blows, the fast shifting sand roars. When a light breeze comes, the sand creates gentle, beautiful sounds akin to music. It is the same when tourists are sliding down the mountainside. At first, the sand just whispers; but the sound gradually become louder until it reaches a crescendo like thunder or a drum beat. Some say that the sand is singing, while to others it is like an echo and this is how the mountain gets its name.

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

Features of Echoing-Sand Mountain

5 kilometers (about 3 miles) from the southern suburb of Dunhuang City, Echoing-Sand Mountain (Mingsha Mountain) begins at the cliff top of Mogao Caves in the east and ends at the Danghe Reservoir in the west, stretching for 40 kilometers (about 25 miles). It is 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) wide from north to south with a height of tens of meters.

It is called 'Echoing-Sand Mountain' because the sand mountain produces loud sounds when there is a gale and slight sounds when there is only a breeze. Since ancient times, stories have been circulating about the echoing sand. The most popular one has it that a general from the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) led his army out to subdue the western regions and was attacked by the enemy while passing through the area. While the two armies were locked in battle, a storm with high winds blew up. Both of the armies were buried in sand. Among the local residents it is believed that the sound of the sand is that of the two armies joined in battle.

Actually, the sounds are not made by the sand itself. Scientists have three explanations for the sounds. One is that the sand particles, which contain quartz crystals, rub together when flowing downwards under the force of the wind or human footsteps. This friction produces a static charge, which discharges, creating the sound. The second theory is that the dry sand particles can easily produce a sharp, snapping sound when they rub together, especially in hot weather. These individual snapping sounds together create the thundering echo. The last is that the valleys between the sand mountains are natural echo chambers. The grating and static sound made by the falling sand is amplified creating a huge reverberant sound.

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

Seen from afar, the mountain is like a huge yellow dragon lying smoothly and endlessly on the horizon. As you approach it, you will find that the whole mountain is made up of tiny colorful sand particles. There are two peculiar features about the mountain. One is that the sand makes a groaning sound when people sliding down the mountain. The other one is that footprints will disappear entirely by the next day.

The Wonders of the Gobi Desert

The moving sand seldom accompanies the clear spring in nature. But in Dunhuang, the strange sand dunes always takes the clear sweet spring as their shadow, which make them outstanding among lots of tourist attractions in the world. The blue Crescent Spring encloses the foot of the Echoing-Sand Mountain. The two accompany each other eternally in a harmonious and almost paradoxical existence. Through the ages, the marvelous landscape is celebrated worldwide with the reputation "a pearl north of the Great Wall." The two enjoy the title of "The Wonders of the Gobi Desert."

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

The singing sands of the mountain have many colors ranging from red to yellow, green, black and white. These magical sands are well known as the "five-color sand" which are regarded as three treasures of the local area along with the "iron-back fish" and "seven-star grass" from the Crescent Spring.

Besides the charming scenery of the Crescent Spring, you have chances to experience some fun and adventures. You could enjoy the exciting riding camels, dune surfing and therapeutic sand baths (imagine being buried up to your neck) are available activities.

The climb to the top of the dunes is sweaty work, but the dramatic view back across the rolling desert sands towards the oasis makes the effort worthwhile. To get to the top, you could ride bicycles or hire a taxi.

Descending the dunes is quite simple-slide down the dune to the sound of "rumbling sands" or the sound of thunder or a drum-roll as the wind sweeps across the sands. The thunder-like sound produced when sliding down along the sands is tremendous.

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

Reviews of Echoing-Sand Mountain

"Impressive desert experience": Situated about 15mins out of Dunhuang, this location is actually two attractions for the price of one. The Mingsha Shan or Echoing Sands are desert sand dunes and just at the edge of the dunes is the Crescent Lake. Once inside the site, there are a few decisions to make. Firstly, you have a choice of climbing the dunes using camels, dune buggies or your own two legs. Additionally there is a para-glider option although this doesn't actually land you at the top of the dune, as far as I can make out, just provide a bird-eye's view of the site.

Then you have a choice of renting bright orange stockings to prevent sand from entering your shoes. We saw many locals walking around barefoot although our guide advised against it, saying there were broken glass shards in the sand, but we didn't see any evidence of this. It would be nice to feel the dry sand under your feet but it's your choice. Vendors will try to sell you face masks as well but there is really no need for this unless there is a wind blowing. Finally, you can pay to take a shortish tram ride to the Cresent Lake or walk about 10-15mins on flat land.

Echoing-Sand Mountain
Echoing-Sand Mountain

On the day we visited, there was hardly any wind and it wasn't very hot, so I decided to climb up on my own. There are various routes up or down and you can go at your own pace and rest if you feel tired. You can walk along the ridges to various dunes or sit at the top and enjoy the view of more dunes stretching to the distance. Unfortunately, I didn't hear the sound echo which this location is famed for, maybe because there was no wind. You can either chose to visit the Crescent Lake before or after you climb the dunes but do remember to bring water along with you especially if you opt to climb. Because it might well be a unique experience for many tourists, a quiet half hour at the top of the dune may provide a special experience.

When to get Echoing-Sand Mountain

The best time to explore the Crescent Spring is from April to October. In summer the sun is very strong so the sunscreen essential. In winter it is very cold so bring plenty of warm clothes.

How to get Echoing-Sand Mountain

A. Take the mini buses in Dunhuang City and get off at Mingshashan or Yueyaquan;
B. Take a taxi from the city (about CNY 15)