We all know cathedrals made of bricks and stone but have you heard of the one made of…well…wind? The answer to that question is the Wind Cathedral of Namibia. Paul Godard turned the world’s attention to the beauty of the Namibian desert back in 2005 through his controversial photograph(shown above) of its sand dunes. It still remains a topic of debate as to whether the snapshot was genuine or was it adulterated by Photoshop. Nonetheless the effect that he created was sensational. People got curious and wanted to witness the Wind Cathedral for themselves. The place in question is Sossusvlei, which literally means “dead end marsh”. Despite its name it still manages to be one of the topmost tourist attractions of the country. You can find it at the southern part of the oldest desert in the world-the Namib desert, in the Namib Naukluft National Park. The place happens to be a photographer’s paradise. The characteristic feature is the presence of sand dunes exhibiting a myriad range of colours from pink to orange. These dunes are not only vividly coloured but also monstrously high akin to miniaturised version of mountains, many of them being 200 meters tall. The highest one of them all is aptly named as the “Big Daddy”, standing at a height of 380 meters. These dunes have been formed over a period of a million years. They are believed to be 60-80 million years old and were formed by the Atlantic Ocean drifts that pushed the sands for eons. The sand dunes display a dynamic behaviour as in they constantly keep changing their contours and shapes due to the shifting of the wind. As a result we have:
- Transverse dunes which are long and linear formed by prevalent winds
- Star dunes which have multiple ridges formed by multi-directional winds
- Barchan dunes which are formed by uni-directional winds and which are also the most mobile of them all.
Some of the sturdy dunes are covered by bits of vegetation which creates marshes which are known as “vlei”, which solves the mystery of the second part of the name. As to the mystery of the first part, the marsh forms an endorheic basin as in it retains the water and allows no outflow to external bodies like rivers and oceans hence forming a kind of dead-end. You can find many animals in this region ranging from small reptiles, antelopes to ostriches. One of the most fascinating of all such fauna is the Namib Desert Beetle that has a unique technique of collecting water from the fog using the bumps on its back. During the flood season one can see many migrant bird species which makes the place an ideal spot for bird watchers. The flood season occurs on an average of 5 to 10 years when the Tsauchab river flows through the Sesriem canyon.
Some important landmarks include:
- Sesriem: Sesriem is the gateway to Sossusvlei. A 60 kilometre long road presents the pathway from Sesriem to Sossusvlei.
- Elim dune: Elim dune is a lone sand dune located 5 kilometres from Sesriem. The dune was named after the farm that was there before the inception of the national park.
- Dune 45: Dune 45 got its name from the fact that the dune was situated 45 kilometres from Sesriem. It holds the envious tag of being the “most photographed dune in the world” because of its fascinating aesthetics. It stands tall at 80 metres and can be climbed with relative ease.
- Big Daddy: Big Daddy is the 7th highest dune in the world at a height of roughly 325-380 metres (it’s height could change due to the wind and sand shifts). It is the highest dune in the region and faces another high dune known as “Big Mama”. Many climb it to catch a glimpse of the breath taking view from atop its summit.
- Petrified dunes: Petrified dunes are about one billion years old which have solidified into rock.
- Deadvlei: Deadvlei is a popular background set in many films and pictures due to its scenic landscape courtesy of dead acacia trees dotted about the clay pan which provides a stark contrast relative to the surrounding landscape. The scene from the film “The Cell” which starred Jennifer Lopez was shot at this place. The trees though dead have become perfectly preserved due to the fact that there is not enough moisture for decomposition to take place.
Sossusvlei is the foremost attraction of Namibia and there are several facilities for tourists to enjoy this natural wonder. One can find a 2X4 parking, several accommodation facilities along the border of the park, several travel agencies offer trips and one may marvel at its magnificence aerially either through small planes or hot air balloons. The gate opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The best times to witness these wonders are during sunset and sunrise when the shadows play around making the experience even more enriching. One of the popular activities is dune climbing. During the day it is marked with footprints of the day’s “mountaineers” and by night the marks are erased by the wind, leaving it how it was before man was born-silent and unmarked ready to greet the next set of explorers the next day. It is the perfect place for hiking, exploration and photography. So what are you waiting for? Get your DSLR and trekking boots and head out to experience the Wind Cathedral.