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Central Tian Shan/Kyrgyzstan

Introducing Central Tian Shan

Tian Shan means 'Celestial Mountains' in Chinese and the range does indeed achieve a most heavenly majesty at Kyrgyzstan's easternmost tip. Here, a knot of immense summits culminate in 7439m Pik Pobedy (Victory Peak), the second-highest peak in the former USSR. But though it's slightly shorter, the gracious pyramidal form of 7010m Khan Tengri (Sky Ruler) makes it possibly the most stunningly beautiful of all the region's peaks. Locals call it ‘Blood Mountain’ due to a crimson hue it often adopts at sunset.

Though reported by 7th-century Chinese explorer Xuan Zang, Khan Tengri was not climbed until 1931 (by a Ukrainian team). Rumbling westwards from both sides of the mountain is the 60km-long Inylchek (Engilchek) Glacier embracing an entire rampart of giant peaks and tributary glaciers. North of where the two arms meet, iceberg-filled lakes are named after Austrian explorer Gottfried Merzbacher who happened upon the lower one in 1903. What makes the lakes unusual is that most summers in early August, their ice banks burst sending a flood of icy water exploding down into the Inylchek River below.

The central Tian Shan is Central Asia’s premier territory for serious trekking and mountaineering. But beware: