Where Are the Tian Shan Mountains?

The Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan's Almaty precinct.
The Tian Shan mountains in Kazakhstan's Almaty precinct.

The Tian Shan or the Tengri Tagh is a mountain range in Central Asia. The rage stretches for over 1,800 miles from Uzbekistan to China. It borders the western and northern ends of the Taklamakan Desert on the border of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Xinjiang Province of China; the Pamir Mountains to the south, and the Altai Mountains of Mongolia to the east and north. The Tian Shan Range forms part of the Himalayan orogenic belt that was created by the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. It is among the oldest ranges in Central Asia.

Highest Peaks

Jengish Chokusu is the highest peak in the range with an elevation of 24,406 ft. It is located at the border of China and Kyrgyzstan and is the highest point in Kyrgyzstan. Khan Tengr along the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border is the second highest peak with an elevation of 23,000 ft and the highest point in Kazakhstan.


The Tarim Basin and the Taklimakan Desert separate the vast Tibetan Plateau from the mountains range. The Syr Darya, Tarim, and Ili are the major rivers that rise from the mountains. The region above 10,500ft is continuously covered by permafrost while discontinuous permafrost is found between 8,900 ft and 10,800 ft.


The mountains of Tian Shan are made of sedimentary and crystalline rocks. The eastern and northern sections underwent folding during the early Paleozoic while the western and southern potions underwent folding during the late Paleozoic.


The glaciers of the mountains cover about 3,900 square miles of which four-fifth is in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The largest glacial areas are found in Khan Tängiri, the Eren Habirg, and Victory peaks. The glaciers are fed by avalanches from the adjacent slopes or snow storms. Glacial action in the mountains is decreasing at a rapid rate. The glaciers of the mountain range have shrunk by over 27% compared to 1961 due to global warming. Researchers prospect that the entire mountain range will be free of glaciers by 2100.


The region close to the Tian Shan is home to several ethnic groups the largest being the Uighur on the west and the Kyrgyz on the east. Other groups include the Uzbeks, Mongols, and Kazakhs. The Ili River Valley in China has attracted a large immigrant population. Despite the harsh environment along the mountain range, migrants from Siberia, Central Asia, and eastern China are flocking to the region in large numbers.


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