The Celestial mountains from Chinese
language, Tien-Shan is extremely mountainous region, with beautiful alpine sceneries,
densely forested valleys, multicoloured lakes and pristine glaciers. Tien-Shan
Mountains are home to many species of wildlife. There are excellent opportunities
for leisurely walks as well as the most demanding treks and high altitude expeditions.
Tien-Shan is shared on Northern, Western, Central
and Eastern part situated in China.
The Tien Shan is the Chinese name for the Celestial
Mountains, which within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union stretches
in a huge arc more than 1,200km long and 300km across. Presently Tien Shan occupies
the whole territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, north and west regions of Kazakhstan
and very south regions of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Tien Shan is one of the highest mountain kingdoms
in the world (second highest after Pamirs). This mountainous area, a large part
of which is located in Kyrgyzstan, is one of the most inaccessible areas in
Tien-Shan mountains of Central Asia are, without
doubt, the least visited mountain ranges in the world, yet one which offer some
of the most magnificent landscapes, picturesque rural scenes, exhilarating trekking
and genuine hospitality to be found anywhere on the planet.
Tien-Shan has played host to a series of illustrious
travellers and explorers, notably the famous Buddhist pilgrim-explorer Hsuan
Tsang (c.640 AD) and Marco Polo. Tien Shan lay astride the Silk Road, connecting
China to what is now the Middle East, though the actual routeways meandered
north and south of the Kyrgystan.
Two of five highest peaks in the former Soviet
Union lie here, Peak Pobeda and Peak Khan Tengri. There are more than 100 mountains
over 5000- 6000 metres many of which are still unclimbed and could be ideal
The highest at 7,439m is Peak Pobedy. Further to
the north, in the Tengri Tag Range, and facing Peak Pobedy on the other side
of Inylchek glacier is the other mighty pyramid giant of Tien-Shan, Peak Khan
Tengri 6995 m. These two giants overlook a large glacier, Inylchek at 4100 m,
with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
Though the highest peaks have been climbed for
many years there are many mountains in the Tien-Shan which are yet unconquered.
There is endless scope for exploratory climbing and many as-yet-unclimbed summits
beckon the experienced mountaineer in search of a fresh challenge.
The Fantastic Asia travel company can assist with
logistical arrangements for groups who are interested in climbing Peak Pobedy,
Peak Khan Tengri or Peak Nansen as well as many other virgin and conquered peaks.
We also arrange the exploratory climbing expeditions to the remote Tien Shan
areas with the opportunity to attempt virgin summits. Please contact us if you
are interested in being kept informed of developments.
When to go
The middle of the summer is the best season for high altitude expeditions
and other climbing events. However, the most comfortable season for trekking
is July-September. Deep snow prevents the crossing of the mountain passes until
late June, while after October serious winter equipment is needed and the Kyrgyz
shepherds, a glimpse into whose rugged lives is one of the highlights of any
trip, have started to retreat from the high pastures.
In these summer months, diurnal temperature ranges
can be dramatic with daytime temperatures of over 25 degrees, and frost registered
every night above 4,000 m.
Beyond the final shepherds you will soon be into
glacial moonscapes, where the river crossings are treacherous, and eventually
the glaciers themselves. At this time of the year you can readily cross the
high passes, most of which lie from 3500 to 5000 m, from one major valley to
Autumn, running from late September to late November,
affords the most picturesque landscapes as the skies are clearer, the rivers
are running lower and turquoise blue, while the fields and orchards of the villages
are a blaze of colour and harvest activity. Lower night-time temperatures must
be contended with and the shepherds are leaving, but on the other hand the high
passes are even freer of snow. Lower altitude trekking is truly sublime at this
time of year.
The first of the snowfalls usually hit the mountains
in late October, but the higher valleys will be under snow one month before
then. While the winter-wonderland scenery is truly majestic, winter trekking
in Tien Shan is a serious business, with all but the lowest passes impossible.
Temperature can decrease as low as -25- 30 and if you are not adequately prepared
you can expect frostbite. High-altitude sunshine is fierce, and the winds correspondingly
so. Running water is hard to come by and you will need a stove not only for
cooking food but also for melting snow. Perhaps the greatest impediment is not
the cold temperatures, which can be mitigated, but the shortness of the days
and the corresponding long nights. You will need to be in your 4-season sleeping
bag from when the sun goes down at 17:00 to when it hits your tent at 09:00,
and after several nights of this you will be all-too-familiar with the personal
habits and histories of your companions.
Spring, running from late April to June, is the
least rewarding time for trekking in Tien Shan. High valleys and passes are
still clogged with snow, the mountains are frequently cloud covered, and the
risk of avalanches and rockfalls is at its highest.
Maps adequate for trekking in Tien Shan can easily be found. Far
and away the best maps are the Soviet "military" maps (1:100,000 and
1:200,000), available from travel agency. They give a good overview of details,
although they contains place names and show the contours - but it requires knowledge
of Cyrillic characters.
Guides and porters
It is well advised to arrange guide and porters from travel agency,
as concept of porters is unknown in Tien Shan and locals would not carry your
belongings. Though you can hire horses in the villages and shepherds' camps.
These depends on your bargain professionalism and could cost you between $3
and $10 per animal per day. Sometimes it can be difficult to obtain them at
short notice -so it is best to book them well in advance. Hiring a horse with
horseman do not really rely on him, as there were reports of people whose equipment
had been stolen. Therefore do not allow the horseman to ride far in front or
behind you. People will be bemused if you ask for a guide, but will enthusiastically
point the way. This is also the thing not to rely on. Some of them might have
no information about remote areas from the places where they live. It is certainly
the case that most of the passes provided route ways in former generations,
the construction of roads in Soviet times, linking the valleys at their lower
ends, meant the abandonment of such routes, and the loss of knowledge of their
passage. Occasional tumbledown cairns on passes indicate that someone came through
here once upon a time, but for the most part you will feel like you are the
A note on hospitality
Generally people are hospitable, and you will undoubtedly meet with
it along the way, whether in villages or shepherds' camps. Interaction with
local communities is always one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences
of a visit to any foreign culture. However it is well advised to keep aside
of drunk parties. Staying in the family you will be offered the same food to
eat - that means bread, tea, dairy products, meat which unless freshly slaughtered
is likely to be somewhat dubious, and, either fresh or dried fruits (apricots,
plum, nuts). If you accept the hospitality, you will be obliged to eat the food.
If you produce your own food, you should be prepared to share it around, and
it won't go very far in a household of over 10 people. If you are more than
2 people it is in any case unfair to accept the hospitality of food-deficit
families. Gifts, preferably cash, will be refused at first but accepted eventually,
and you should persevere. The amount is up to you, you soon learn to gauge it,
but it would be suggested $5 per night. If you supplement this by taking photographs
of the family, and honouring your promise to forward the prints, the host family
will be delighted.
Planning the trip to Kyrgyz Tien Shan you will need a Kyrgyz visa
and border zone access permission for some areas. Visas can be obtained from
Kyrgyz Embassies or consulates where they exist or where Kyrgyzstan has no diplomatic
representation in Kazakhstan or Russian Federation embassy. You also can pick
up visa at the international arrivals lounge at Bishkek Manas international
airport. Border zone access permit can be obtained from travel agency. Be aware
that it can take some time.
Trekking and climbing suggestions
Trekking and climbing in the Tien Shan is about as difficult as
it gets. You need to be well-equipped and fully independent in terms of supplies.
The terrain is tough, and there are no tea-shops or lodges along the way. Once
you are above the shepherds' camps you are on your own, and paths are often
non-existent if you travel in some of the remote areas. Note the permissions
required, as described above. On the other hand, all the treks outlined below
offer stunning scenery, are highly enjoyable and manageable with a minimum of
technical equipment and expertise.
If you are interested in some of the treks or jeep
tours in Tien-Shan please contact us
for futher details.
Aliases: Tjan-Shan, Tyan-Shan, Tjan-Schan, Tenir-Too, Temir-Too,
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