The Fascinating Landscapes of Kyrgyzstan
A long distance away from oceans, in the heart of Central Asia lies the country of Kyrgyzstan. It is a landlocked nation surrounded by Kazakhstan to the north and northwest, China to the east and south, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the west and south. Its terrain is largely made up of towering mountain ranges and deep valleys. The Tien Shan and Pamir mountain systems dominate 65% of the landscape. The higher ranges amongst those are perpetually covered in snow and ice. More than 90% of the country is elevated at 1,500 metres above sea level.
Lowlands make up for about one-seventh of the terrain where most of the human settlements are found. The largest lowland is the Fergana valley in the southeast of the region. The climate of Kyrgyzstan is dry continental in the mountains and sub-tropical in the Fergana valley, while the northern foothills have a temperate climate.
Mountains and Glaciers
The Tien Shan mountain system is the largest after the Himalayas in Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, the western Tien Shan range runs northeast, thus forming the eastern border with China. The Ala Tau ranges running east to west in northern Kyrgyzstan, and Central Fergana Mountains running southeast to northwest are also part of the Tien Shan system. In the south, the Trans Alai Range meets the northernmost part of the Pamir Mountains.
The highest peak of the Tien Shan is Victory Peak or Jengish Chokusu (7,439 metres) on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China.
Khan Tengri is the second highest peak (7,010 metres) on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. Both these peaks are part of the Inylchek glacier, the largest glacier of Kyrgyzstan. There are around 8,000 glaciers in Kyrgyzstan which account for 4% of the total area of the country. Mountaineering here is very popular, but crevasses covered with freshly fallen snow can present a particular hazard for mountaineers. The Torugart Pass (3,752 metres) in the south of Kyrgyzstan is one of the two border crossings with China.
Flat and Rolling Terrain
Only 4% of Kyrgyzstan consists of forests. The lower valleys and mountain slopes are covered mostly in conifers. Horses, deer, mountain goats, mountain sheep as well as protected wildlife species like the Tien Shan bear, the red wolf and the snow leopard are found here. The Fergana Valley in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan is created by the Tien Shan Mountains in the north and the Gissar-Alai in the south. This scenic valley also spreads over to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Majority of the country’s agriculture takes place here. A producer of cotton, grains, fruits and vegetables, it owes its fertility to the Naryn and Kara Darya rivers. The world’s largest walnut forest is found in Arslanbob in the valley.
Located in northern Tien Shan, the Chuy valley runs from the Boom gorge in the east to the Muyunkum Desert in the west. Chu River is the major source of drinking and irrigation water, making the valley one of the most fertile and densely populated regions of Kyrgyzstan. The capital city of Bishkek falls under this territory.
Located around 40 kilometres away from Bishkek is the Ala-Archa Canyon, a popular destination for hiking to the glaciers replete with challenging ice, rock and mixed routes.
The Jeti-Öghüz canyon near Lake Issyk-Kul is a geological protected area comprising sheer cliffs of red sandstone.
Kyrgyzstan’s northern region near the border with Kazakhstan is a desert region with very little vegetation. In the Muyunkum desert, temperatures can soar up to 50°C in summers and drop to -40°C in winters.
The Kyrgyz landscape consists of nearly 2000 lakes located at high elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 metres above sea level. Most of them are small but together they account for approximately 7,000 square kilometres of the region. At 6,236 square kilometres, Lake Issyk-Kul takes up most of this area, making it Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake and the world’s second highest Alpine lake. Issyk-Kul never freezes due to its thermal activity and salinity.
At about 270 square kilometres, Lake Song-Kul in the Naryn Province is drastically smaller than Issyk-Kul but is the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the largest freshwater lake of the country.
Several rivers flow through the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Most of them are fast-flowing runoff streams which originate from the melting snows of the high eastern mountains. These mountain rivers are not navigable due to the extreme drop in altitudes, but many are suitable for white water rafting and similar activities.
The Naryn River (535 kilometres in length) is the longest river which meets other rivers to become the great Central Asian Syr Darya. The Chu river in the north originates from the Naryn region and flows northwest past Bishkek, finally drying up in the desert of southern Kazakhstan.