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The Tian Shan ( ("celestial mountains"); Pinyin: Tiān Shān; Uyghur: تەڭرىتاغ Tengri Tagh), also commonly spelled Tien Shan, is a mountain range located in Central Asia. The Chinese name for Tian Shan or Tien Shan, may in turn go back to a Xiongnu name, qilian ( ) reported by the Shiji as the homeland of the Yuezhi, which has been argued to refer to the Tian Shan rather than to the range further the east now known by this name. A nearby mountain range, the Tannu-Ola Mountainsmarker (Tuvan: Таңды-Уула Tangdy-Uula), also bears a synonymous name ("heaven/celestial mountains" or "god/spirit mountains").


The range lies to the north and west of the Taklamakan Desertmarker in the border region of Kazakhstanmarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western Chinamarker. In the south it links up with the Pamir Mountainsmarker. It also extends into the Chinese province of Xinjiang and into the northern areas of Pakistanmarker, where it joins the Hindu Kushmarker.

In Western cartography, the eastern end of the Tian Shan is usually understood to be just west of Ürümqimarker, while the range to the east of that city is known as the Bogda Shanmarker. However, in Chinese cartography, from the Han Dynasty to the present, the Tian Shan is also considered to include the Bogda Shan and Barkol ranges.

The Tian Shan are a part of the Himalayanmarker orogenic belt which was formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates in the Cenozoic era. They are one of the longest mountain ranges in Central Asia, stretching some eastward from Tashkentmarker in Uzbekistanmarker.

The highest peak in the Tian Shan is the Victory Peakmarker (пик Победы in Russian or Jengish Chokusumarker in Kyrgyz) which, at , is also the highest point in Kyrgyzstan and is on the border with China.The Tian Shan's second highest peak, Khan Tengrimarker (Lord of the Spirits), at , straddles the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border, and is the highest point of Kazakhstan. Mountaineers class these as the two most northerly peaks over in the world.

The Torugart Passmarker, high, is located at the border between Kyrgyzstan and China's Xinjiang province. The forested Alatau ranges, which are at a lower altitude in the northern part of the Tian Shan, are inhabited by pastoral tribes speaking Turkic languages. The major rivers rising in the Tian Shan are the Syr Daryamarker, the Ili rivermarker and the Tarim Rivermarker. The Aksu Canyon is a notable feature in the northwestern Tian Shan.

One of the first Europeans to visit and the first to describe the Tian Shan in detail was the Russian explorer Peter Semenov in the 1850s.

Ranges of the Tian Shan

The Tian Shan have a number of named ranges which are often mentioned separately. (all distances are approximate)

Chinamarker: The Tian Shan start north of Hami Citymarker with the U-shaped Barkol Mountains, from about east of Urumchimarker. Then the Bogda Shanmarker (god mountains) run from east of Urumchi. Then there is a low area between Urumchi and the Turfan Depressionmarker. The Borohoro mountains start just south of Urumchi and run west northwest separating Dzungaria from the Ili Rivermarker basin. Their north end abuts on the Dzungarian Alataumarker which run east northeast along Sino-Kazakh border. They start east of Taldykorganmarker in Kazakhstan and end at the Dzungarian Gatemarker. The Dzungarian Alataumarker in north, (name?) in middle and Borohoro range in south make a reversed Z or S, the northeast enclosing part of Dzungaria and the southwest enclosing the upper Ili valley.

Kyrgystanmarker: The main line of the Tian Shan continues as (name?) from the base of the Borohoros west to the point where China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan meet. Here is the highest part of the range – the Central Tian Shan, with Peak Pobedamarker and Khan Tengrimarker. West of this, the Tian Shan split into an ‘eye’, with Lake Issyk Kulmarker in its center. The south side of the lake is the Terskey Alatau and the north side the Kengey Alatau (shady and sunny Alatau). North of the Kengey Alatau and parallel to it is the Trans-Ili Alatau in Kazakhstan just south of Almatymarker. West of the eye, the range continues as the Kirgiz Alatau, separating Chui Provincemarker from Naryn Oblastmarker and then Kazakhstan from the Talas Provincemarker. This oblast is the upper valley of the Talas River, the south side of which is the Talas Ala-Too Range ('Ala-too' is a Kirgiz spelling of Alatau). At the east end of the Talas Alatau the Suusamyr Too range runs southeast enclosing the Suusamyr Valley or plateau.

Ferganamarker: From south of Issyk Kul an group of mountains (name?) curve west southwest separating the Tarim Basin from the Fergana Valleymarker. The Fergana Range runs northeast towards the Talas Ala-Too and separaties the upper Naryn basin from Fergana proper. The southern side of these mountains merge into the Pamirsmarker in Tajikistan (Alay Mountains and Trans-Alay Range). West of this is the Turkestan Range, which continues as (name?) almost to Samarkand.


The Tian Shan holds important forests of Schrenk's Spruce (Picea schrenkiana) at altitudes of over ; the lower slopes have unique natural forests of wild Walnut and Apples.

In Popular Culture

  • Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos include a planet known as T'ien Shan (using the Wade-Giles Romanization); it is particularly featured in The Rise of Endymion, the concluding novel of the cycle. Simmons' planet T'ien Shan is covered in a poisonous, acidic atmosphere, but the tops of the mountains are high enough that the atmosphere is breathable. Within the universe of the Cantos, the planet is settled by Buddhists and Muslims (presumably from the original Tian Shan), but also Jews and Norse.

  • In the anime series Eureka Seven, a similar mountain range (possibly even the same one), is featured, and is an important location towards the end of the series.

  • Tian Shan mountains are an the integral setting in David Gibbins 2009 book, Tiger Warrior.

Chinese religion

In Daoism the Goddess of the West is believed to guard the peach trees of immortality in the Tian Shan.


Image:Gorkiy Peak from South Inylchek Glacier.jpg|Gorkiy Peak seen across the South Inylchek glacierImage:South_Inylchek_Base_Camp.jpg|The South Inylchek Base Camp, with Chapaev and Khan Tengri across the glacierImage:tianshansnow.jpg|Astronomical observations in the Tian Shan c. 1912, by Sergey Prokudin-GorskyImage:IMG 9369-Kaindy.jpg|Schrenk's Spruce forestImage:TianShanRoad.jpg|Road from Yining to Kuchamarker, Xinjiang, ChinamarkerImage:TianShanYaks.jpg|Yaks grazing, Xinjiang, ChinaImage:AlaKol.jpg|Ala Köl (lake), Terskey Alatau range, KyrgyzstanImage:Piktalgar.jpg|Talgar Peakmarker, TalgarmarkerImage:Tian Shan Panorama.jpg|Tian Shanmarker Range, UrumqimarkerImage:E8269-Tamchy-skyline.jpg|Terskey Alatoo range seen from across Lake Issyk Kulmarker


  1. Xinru Liu, Migration and Settlement of the Yuezhi-Kushan: Interaction and Interdependence of Nomadic and Sedentary Societies (2001) [1]


  • The Contemporary Atlas of China. 1988. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. Reprint 1989. Sydney: Collins Publishers Australia.
  • The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. Eleventh Edition. 2003. Times Books Group Ltd. London.

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