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An Elevated Legacy
Text by Wang Fang Photos courtesy of Xinjiang World Heritage Application Office


A flock of cranes flies over Ku’erdening.

The Tianshan Mountain range stretches 2,500 kilometers through the center of western China’s Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region, splitting the vast region accounting for a sixth of the country’s land into northern and southern halves. The mountain range served as an eternal landmark of the ancient Silk Road as well as a watershed between the oasis culture of southern Xinjiang and the grassland culture of northern Xinjiang.

As China’s only site recommended for World Natural Heritage status in 2012, Xinjiang Tianshan is expected to be added to the list at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, scheduled for June 16 to 27 in Cambodia. The nominated area includes Tomur National Nature Reserve, Kalajun-Ku’erdening Nature Reserve, Bayanbulak Grassland, and Bogda Peak, which offer prominent examples of geological landforms, ecosystem, and natural landscapes of the Tianshan Mountains.

Snow lotuses on Bogda Peak.  Whooper swans fly over Bayanbulak Grassland.  Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) in winter. 

Kingdom of Glaciers

The highest peak in the Tianshan Mountains, Tomur stands 7,435 meters high on the border between China and Kyrgyzstan. It is complemented by 15 other surrounding peaks each stretching more than 6,000 meters above sea level, making the area the largest concentration of tall peaks in the Tianshan Mountains.

The area is the biggest glacial core of Tianshan, with a total of 829 glaciers, accounting for a fourth of all glaciers in the mountain range. Khan Tengri Glacier is the most spectacular. Its 60.8-kilometer length ranks it amongst the world’s eight largest valley glaciers.

The rich ice and snow resources in Tomur Peak area are vital to agricultural production around the oases west of Tianshan. The mountains consolidate 495 billion cubic meters of ice and snow, four times as much as Mount Qomolangma (Everest). Each thaw produces 4.8 billion cubic meters of water to nourish the oases amidst the desert.



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