Tian Shan Range: The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds

From Kashgar, Gustaf Mannerheim ventured northward to the foothills of the Tian Shan range. The Chief of the Russian General Staff had instructed him to conduct reconnaissance of the alpine passes and ethnic groups living in the shadow of the Tian Shan range. He left Kashgar on January 25, 1907 for a gruelling six-month trek that would bring him to Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang.

While Mannerheim made a hundred-kilometre trek across the Tian Shan range through the Muzart Pass, I was forced to go around the rugged range—a 2,300-kilometre detour. The geography was too harsh and security in this borderland area too sensitive. Instead, I hired a Uyghur driver for a long road trip around the mountains, rejoining Mannerheim’s route at the Buddhist lamasery of Mongolkure (Zhaosu in Chinese) in the Tekes Valley among the northern foothills of the Tian Shan range.

Route Map

Click on features to view details of Mannerheim’s journey zigzagging across the Tian Shan range or “Heavenly Mountains.” Because of the harsh geography and security issues, I wasn’t able to traverse the mountain range as Mannerheim did. Instead, I was forced to make a long detour around the mountain range to the north side.

View Chapter 8: Tian Shan Range in a larger map

Photo Map

Click on the icons to view photos of my trip from Kashgar around the Tian Shan range to the Ili and Tekes Valleys, and the Kalmyk Buddhist lamasery in Mongolkure (Zhaosu in Chinese).



This BBC documentary, “Death on the Silk Road,” features Enver Tohti, a Uyghur doctor and now political refugee in Britain, who helped journalists expose the health effects of nuclear weapons testing on local Uyghur populations in Xinjiang, China. I interviewed Tohti during a stopover in London.


For more information about the Tian Shan range, Gulja and the Ili Vally region, check out these links:

Tian Shan on Wikipedia
Amnesty International: Remembering the 1997 Gulja Massacre
Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture on Wikipedia
Uyghur Human Rights Project