Tian Shan lies to the north and west of the Taklamakan Desert and directly north of the Tarim Basin in the border region of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China. In the south it links up with the Pamir Mountains and to north and east it meets the Altai Mountains of Mongolia. It also extends into the Chinese province of Xinjiang and into the northern areas of Pakistan, where it joins the Hindu Kush.
In Western cartography, the eastern end of the Tian Shan is usually understood to be just west of Ürümqi, while the range to the east of that city is known as the Bogda Shan. In Chinese cartography from the Han Dynasty to the present, however, the Tian Shan also includes the Bogda Shan and Barkol ranges.
The Tian Shan are a part of the Himalayan 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 and stretch some 2,800 kilometres (1,700 mi) eastward from Tashkent in Uzbekistan.
The highest peak in the Tian Shan is Victory Peak (пик Победы in Russian or Jengish Chokusu in Kyrgyz) which, at 7,439 metres (24,406 ft), is also the highest point in Kyrgyzstan and is on the border with China. The Tian Shan's second highest peak, Khan Tengri (Lord of the Spirits), straddles the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border and at 7,010 metres (23,000 ft) is the highest point of Kazakhstan. Mountaineers class these as the two most northerly peaks over 7,000 metres (23,000 ft) in the world.
The Torugart Pass, at 3,752 metres (12,310 ft), 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 that speak Turkic languages.
The Tian Shan are separated from the Tibetan Plateau by the Taklimakan Desert and the Tarim Basin to the south.
The major rivers rising in the Tian Shan are the Syr Darya, the Ili River and the Tarim River. 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, who did so in the 1850s.
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