The Altai Mountains

About The Altai Mountains

Being snuggly tucked in the centre of Asia, the Altai mountain range seems to be a no-man’s land. But such remoteness is deceptive. Despite rather huge distances and wild nature, the Altai is bustling with life. It is shared by four countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.

The country-wise divisions are as follows. In Russia, the Altai covers three federal areas: the Altai Territory, the Republic of Tyva and the Republic of Altai. In Mongolia, it lies in the Bayan-Ulgi and Hovd provinces. In China, it occupies the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and in Kazakhstan – the East Kazakhstan Region.

    Topographically, the Altai mainly lies in the Southern Siberia and consists of high and middle-rise mountain ranges separated by deep river valleys and vast inland and intermountain troughs. It stretches from north-west to south-east for more than 2000 km. In the north and north-west, it borders on the West Siberian Plain. In the west, it is separated from the Kazakh hillocky area by the Irtysh River Valley. In the south, it is limited by the Junngar basin, in the south-east, there is the Gobi Desert, in the east is the Great Lakes Valley, and in the north-east, there are the mountains of the Southern Tuva and the Western Sayans.

    The Altai Mountains are the watershed between the basin of the Arctic Ocean and the northeastern region of Central Asia. The highest point is Mount Belukha (4506 m).

    The Altai and Katun Reserves and the Ukok plateaus together form the UNESCO World Heritage Site called The Golden Mountains of Altai.

    The name Altai is ancient, hypotheses about its origin vary wildly.

    According to a German philologist and geographer Alexander Humboldt, Altai in Chinese and Mongolian means Golden Mountain (Altaun oola) or Kin-shan.

    Another explanation of the origin comes from the Turkic word Alatau – motley mountains, which is associated with the colour of the Altai highlands where there are areas with white snow, black rocky placers and lavish green vegetation.

    According to G. Ramstedt, the name Altai comes from the Mongolian word alt – gold and the pronoun -tai, i.e. from the word alttai – gold-bearing, the place where there is gold. This version is confirmed by the fact that the Chinese used to call the Altai Jinshan – golden mountains, which seems to be an obvious carbon copy of the Mongolian word.

    The Altai formation is still ongoing. The evidence of this is the 2003 earthquake and the underground tremors after it. As a result, the southern ridges are rising by an average of one and a half to two centimetres per year. At the same time, there are no active volcanoes in the Altai (there are only ancient ones of different ages). The main source of geological events in the Altai is the collision of the Indian Peninsula with the Eurasian continent.

    In Kazakhstan, the main ridges are:
    • The Southern Altai Ridge, the Kadin Mountains, the Asyu and Kurchum Ranges. In the vast tectonic basin separating the Asyu and Kurchum Ranges at an altitude of 1,449 m lies the largest in the Altai Lake – the Markakol.
    • The Narym Ridge is located in the East Kazakhstan Region and serves as the watershed for the Narym and the Kurchum rivers. The length of the Narym Ridge is 120 km, the maximum height is 2,533 m (Mount).
    • The Tarbagtay Ridge borders with China, its length is 300 km with the maximum widthe of 55 km. The highest point in Tastau (2,992.7m).
    • The Ubinsky Ridge is 120 km long with lower mountains in the west (600-700m) and higher peaks in the east (1500-1800m). The highest point is Mount Sinyukha (1,812m).
    • The Ulbunsky Ridge is a bit shorter than its almost-spelt-the-same bro. It is about 100km long with the highest point Upper Ulba Mountain (2,371m).
    location on map


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