04 October 2005

The Heavenly Mountains

The mountains south and east of here are the tallest in the world. Look on a map to find the Pamir Knot- the area where the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Kunlun, Tian Shan, and Karakoram mountains radiate out in all directions. Bishkek is near the Ala-Too range, a branch of the Tian Shan.

All these high mountains make for some pretty incredible passes in Central Asia. Many border crossings are through mountain passes. The Torugart Pass is the crossing from Kyrgyzstan into China and is at an elevation of 3752 meters (a meter is a bit longer than a yard, so this is about 12,000 feet). The Irkeshtan Pass from KG to Tajikistan recently opened; it's at 4867 meters. The Kyzyl-Art Pass from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan is at 4282 meters. The Kulma pass from Tajikistan to China is at 4362m. Nothing in the US really comes close to these high mountain passes- few mountain peaks in the US would be as high as these passes. In fact, no mountain in the Western Hemisphere tops 7,000 meters, and there are dozens that do here, including 3 in Kyrgyzstan.

The world's highest drivable pass is thought to be the Kardung La at 5602m in Ladakh (in India). Taglung La (also in India) claims to be the second-highest at 5328m, but there are several points higher than this along the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway in China. (I'm trying to convince my husband that we should bike this highway when our boys are old enough to join us. We can start in Kashi and end in Tibet and head off to see geysers. What could be better?)

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