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11 things to hear before you die

22nd April 2014

Graihagh Jackson explores some of the world's most captivating sounds – which you simply shouldn't miss

Graihagh Jackson

1. The song of the dunes

Everyone knows that familiar sound when you put a shell to your ear and listen to the far-off rush of the sea. The song of the sand dunes is something of a similar pitch. Their symphony is distant, but audible as a swelling, low hum.

The aural phenomenon is found in 30 deserts across the world and is caused by the vibration of tumbling sand particles. Namibia's 'Booming Dunes' are even named after the marvel. The song, likened to a lone cello, is something of a wonder and a sensory experience not to be missed.

2. A howler's call

As the sun rises and raindrops slide off over-sized leaves in the dense jungles of Central America, the cry of the black howler monkey can be heard above all other creatures.

This primate's howl, although unearthly, is mystical and pre-historic sounding, as though a tyrannosaurus-rex could be stalking the rainforests of Costa Rica.

3. The call to prayer

With nearly 3,000 mosques in Istanbul all calling Muslims to prayer simultaneously, there is no better place to listen to the wailing notes and sombre tones of the Islamic adhān.

Watch wise old men awaiting the call outside the iconic Blue Mosque in the city centre and tune in to the echoed responses from the surrounding mosques. The rebounding  voices are mesmerising and bound to give you the shivers.

4. Absolute silence

New Zealand's Doubtful Sound is an area of calm water, surrounded by rugged peaks and abundant in wildlife. Perfect to escape the humdrum and stress of everyday life, the unmissable sound here is utter silence.

Take a soothing boat ride out into the clear waters, dive overboard for a wild swim and let the soundless wild setting sink to your core. For an extended stay, take an overnight cruise, gaze up at the stars and spot bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and the rare Fiordland crested penguin.

5. A humpback's ballad

The enigmatic song of the humpback whale travels thousands of miles through entire oceans. They mournfully hum different tunes, whether looking for a mate, exploring new-found waters or calling to companions.

To hear the humpback's tones, be sure to hop aboard a boat equipped with a hydrophone and nothing less than a snorkel; no trip is complete without swimming alongside one of  Mother Nature's finest creatures. It is an adrenaline-fuelled, yet haunting experience.

6. Prayer flags flying

Just before dawn at Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Buddhist monks begin their morning pujas. The air is thick with burning candles, incense and chants; outside is another story. The mountain air is thin but alive with the sound of snapping prayer flags.

The wind whips the prayer flags lining the bridge at Jokhang Temple entrance. The contrast of the Buddhist chants and the flapping of fragile fabric, makes this aural experience a unique one.

7. The rumbles of a volcano

Witness the awesome power of Mother Nature. Gaze up at Poás, Costa Rica and, if you get the timing right and you'll hear the Earth rumble. Surrounded by buzzing insects and the odd eerie hiss of releasing gases, the atmosphere is broken only by an almighty volcanic belch, causing the air to reverberate with shock.

The volcano, along with many others in Costa Rica, including Volcan Arenal, is relatively active so the mountain often stirs and grumbles, much to the delight of onlooking travellers.

8. An intricate birdsong

The lyre bird is far from a glorified parrot; it has one of the most complex birdsongs in the world. The male carefully imitates surrounding bird calls, or any other sound for that matter, to attract a mate.

The melody is so exact that even the local nesters are convinced another of their kind is in the vicinity. So be prepared to hear a combination of cuckoo burrows, chainsaws and even camera-shutter clicks.

9. The whip of a dive

For the people of Pentecost, Vanuatu, land diving is an annual and important event. Stand among the crowd and listen to bold chants, feet drumming and grass skirts swishing as divers prepare to jump.

A momentary gasp and silence is followed, as onlookers apprehensively watch young men throw themselves from a 75ft high bamboo platform, tied on only by home-made rope.

Wait for the sound the whip of the vine against the structure and the accompanied rush of relief that follows. The cracking noise and celebratory cheers of a successful Naghol jump are sounds you'll be anxious to hear.

10. Splintering ice

On a hot summer's day, the sound of splintering ice cubes is a satisfying one. Now multiply that by 1,000 and imagine how enrapturing the sound of a glacier shattering would be.

Glaciers are mass expanses of ice, sometimes cracking and ricocheting into watery smithereens. Nothing compares to the terrifying sound of splintering ice, crashing into water below.

Perito Moreno Glacier periodically stretches into Lake Argentina before rupturing spectacularly and receding back to the mountainside. The thunder of fracturing ice, the cascading splashes and the subsequent waves washing high on the shore is an aural delight.

11. A mighty bat migration

Every autumn, millions of bats migrate to Kasanka, Zambia and stay until Christmas, feasting on the park's fruits. Get up before dawn and you'll witness the bats sauntering back from a night of flight.

The distinctive squeaks can be heard before the sky becomes a blizzard of black silhouettes. The equivalent biomass of 1,000 elephants is above, erupting in short, high pitched chatters.

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 Your Comments (9)

  • 22nd March by Liz Cleere

    I'd add the sound of a yacht sailing in the middle of an empty ocean, cutting through the waves.


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  • 22nd March by Skelly

    Would that bird it copies be any relation of the kookaburra?


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  • 22nd March by KarinW

    Great list! I'd like to add the sound of a fish eagle calling... to me, the defining sound of Africa.


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  • 22nd March by Pathfinder

    You've missed one of the greatest wildlife sounds ever. The true call of the wild.........The howl of a wolf, in the early morning gloom. It will send a shiver down your back and you will never forget it.


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  • 23rd March by Lyn Hughes

    Totally agree re the call of a fish eagle and the howl of a wolf. Both make the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

    I love the night sounds of the African bush. I barely sleep when I'm there!


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  • 24th March by Angela R

    I totallly agree with the sound of the call to prayer.  Sitting on a balcony with something cold in Luxor I can remeber hearing each mosque chiming in with their call to prayer, one after another, at sunset, amazing.



    Another sound etched in my memory was when we stayed in a jungle hotel in Sri Lanka.  I remarked to my husband the first morning that it was a bit like sleeping in the bird house in London Zoo the noises were so incredible.  Loved it.



    Would love to hear a howler monkey, hopefuly will do sooner than later.


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  • 26th March by Liz21sailing

    I too think sound of a sailing yacht cutting through the waves in the open ocean is a magical sound. I would add the sound of 'dolphin chatter' which if you are sailing you can hear especially at night. 





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  • 5th June by rubyrasa

    Number 3 and 5 are my faves. The call to prayer was the soundtrack to my expat childhood in the Middle East. Even though I'm not Muslim, when I hear it now I immediately feel at home.


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  • 5th June by FarawayVisions

    The evening call of the Cory Shearwater, especially a whole colony of them, when you're anchored next to a flooded volcano.


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