The Singing Sand Dunes, Qatar
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The singing sand dunes are one of approximately 30 sites in the world where sound is produced from sand dunes naturally. The dunes themselves curve round in a semi circle, forming a natural desert amphitheatre.
Noise from singing sand dunes, which have been reported in the Middle East for over 1500 years, have been described as "roaring, booming, squeaking, singing or musical" (Singing and booming sand dunes of Nevada and California). Qataris used to attribute these sounds to evil Djinns; similarly, Marco Polo, when he heard the sounds 700 years ago, blamed the sounds on evil spirits.
Hearing the sounds is not guaranteed. When Qatar Visitor visited the Singing Sand Dunes, we heard nothing despite repeated attempts to set off the sounds.
Our failure probably had a lot to do with the weather and time of year. We visited in February in year where there had been heavy rain and when truffles were still growing in the desert.
For singing to take place, the sand must be extremely dry even the presence of 0.1% moisture will reduce the effectiveness of the singing.
The closest we came to success was not at the designated dunes, but several kilometres to the south-east of them. These were similar looking dunes, and as we ran down them we heard a deep zoom-zoom sound with each step. This was not a continuous sound, though, but a series of sounds, each individual sound caused by each individual footstep.
There is still some controversy over how exactly the sand dunes produce the sound (see The troubled song of the sand dunes). However, it is certain that for the sound to be heard the sand needs to be put into motion. When the singing is heard, the sounds' vibrations can sometimes be felt reverberating through your body.
Whether or not you hear any singing, there's great fun to be had running down the sand dunes. In addition, you can see small lizards scamper along the surface of the dunes.
Move towards them, and they will dive below the surface of the dunes. When there are no lizards, you can still see where they have been a line made by their tail with footprints to either side.
When there is wind, you can also observe sand blowing off the back of the sand dunes, creating what appeared to be a lip of blowing sand with blue sky showing beneath. The sand grains will settle on the back, contributing to the growth of the dune.
On the way to the singing sand dunes you will see thorny desert trees and, at the moment, wild oats growing to the side of the road. Around the dunes you'll also find small desert plants with thorny leaves and small, bright yellow flowers.
The area is very photogenic, and a great place to add rolling sand dunes to your photo collection. It's worth staying until sunset, when the sun descends down over the dunes. You'll also hear and maybe see some desert birds. And you might even hear those sand dunes.
Head out of town along Salwa Road. About eight miles after the large roundabout by the industrial area, you will come to a Mobil Petrol station. Go past the station and do a U Turn. Drive back along the road, past the army camp, and take the right turning onto the road to Messaieed.
Drive along the road, past two roundabouts. Turn left at the first junction after the roundabout. Follow the new road be careful as there are some vicious speed bumps. You will cross a pipe line, and come to a t-junction - go straight ahead here. As you drive along (it's not very far) you'll be able to see the dunes leave your car by the side of the road if you have a sedan, or drive over the rough ground if you have a 4 wheel drive.
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