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Xinjiang Terrain:Three Mountains and Two Basins

Last updated:Nov 17,2022; By: Alice; Hits: 540

Introduction to Xinjiang Terrain

Xinjiang, located in the northwest region of China, is a land of mesmerizing beauty and diverse terrain. It is a place where the ancient Silk Road once thrived, and today, it stands as a testament to the rich history and natural wonders that the region has to offer. The terrain of Xinjiang is a blend of rugged mountains, vast deserts, and lush oases, making it a unique and intriguing destination for travelers and explorers. The region is home to a rich cultural heritage and a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and adventurers.

Kanas lakethe heavenly lake

Geography and Climate of Xinjiang

Xinjiang's geography is characterized by its vast size, spanning over 1.6 million square kilometers, making it the largest provincial-level region in China. The terrain is dominated by the Taklamakan Desert, one of the largest and driest deserts in the world, and the towering peaks of the Tianshan Mountains. The climate in Xinjiang varies widely, from arid and dry desert regions to the temperate and lush valleys of the Tianshan Mountains. The diverse geography and climate of Xinjiang contribute to its unique and breathtaking landscapes, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Features of Xinjiang Terrain

'Three mountains and two basins' is the geographic feature of Xinjiang. With the Altai Mountains on the north boundary and the Kunlun Mountains on the south boundary, the Tianshan Mountains in the middle is the natural geographical dividing line between Junggar Basin and Tarim Basin, so Xinjiang is divided into two parts - Southern Xinjiang and Northern Xinjiang.

Xinjiang Map

Altai Mountains

Altai Mountains extend approximately 2,000 km in southeast-northwest direction from the Gobi to the West Siberian Plain, through China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan. The jagged mountain ridges derive their name from the Turkic-Mongolian altan, meaning “golden.” The moutain system has three main subdivisions: the Altai proper and the Mongolian and Gobi Altai. A peak in the Altai proper, Belukha—at an elevation of 4,506 metres - is the range’s highest point. In the past these mountains were so remote.


Kunlun Mountains

In Chinese mythology, Kunlun Mountains, also called Kunlunxu, is highly appreciated as a holy mountain, where Xiwangmu, the highest ranked goddess of Taoist lives. Kunlun Mountains start at the eastern Pamir Plateau, traverses Xinjiang and Tibet, and extend to Qinghai. The mountain range is narrow in the west and wide in the east and descends from west to east. It is sparsely vegetated, and the high peaks are covered with snow and mist all year round.  


Tianshan Mountain

Tianshan Mountains, also called Tien Shan, Celestial Mountains or Heavenly Mountains, is a large system of mountain range situated in the Eurasia hinterland. Tianshan Mountain’s location makes it the furthest mountain system from the sea with widespread drought regions. As one of the Seven Mountain Systems in the world, Tian Shan Mountains stretches through four countries (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) with a length of 2,500 kilometers from east to west.

With its particular geological structure and stunning natural landscape, the mountain has been inscribed in the World Heritage List by the UNESCO on June 21st 2013.


Tarim Basin

Tarim Basin vast depression drained by the Tarim River in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, western China, covering about 906,500 square km and enclosed by the Tianshan Mountains to the north, the Pamirs to the west, the Kunlun Mountains to the south, and the Altun Mountains to the east. The climate is extremely dry since the mountains block out moist air from the sea. Annual rainfall is less than 100 mm. The Salt Lake and marshland of Lop Nur lies at the eastern end of the basin. In the centre of the basin is the Takla Makan Desert, which covers an area of 342,000 square km. Several water conservation projects have been built in the Tarim Basin, including a canal that irrigates some 130 square km of farmland.


Junggar Basin

Junggar Basin is situated in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, northwestern China. The basin is located between the Mongolian Altai Mountains, on the Sino-Mongolian border, to the north, and the Borohoro and Eren Habirga Mountains, to the south; the latter run east and west immediately to the north of the Tianshan Mountain. The basin is bounded by the Baytag Bogd and Bogda mountains to the east and southeast respectively. The basin’s western limit is defined by the Dzungarian Alatau and Tarbagatay Mountain ranges, which separate it from the Lake Balqash depression in Kazakhstan.



Cultural Significance of Xinjiang Geography

The geography of Xinjiang has played a pivotal role in shaping the region's rich cultural heritage. The ancient Silk Road, which traversed the rugged terrain of Xinjiang, facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures between the East and the West. The diverse landscape of Xinjiang has also influenced the traditional lifestyles and customs of the region's indigenous peoples, from the nomadic herders of the grasslands to the Uighur communities that have thrived in the oases of the Taklamakan Desert. The geography of Xinjiang is not only a physical backdrop to the region's culture but also an integral part of its identity and heritage.

Activities and Tourism in Xinjiang Terrain

Xinjiang's diverse and captivating terrain offers an array of activities and attractions for visitors to explore and experience. Adventure enthusiasts can embark on treks through the Tianshan Mountains, go camel riding in the vast deserts, or embark on a journey through the ancient Silk Road routes. The region's unique geography also provides opportunities for skiing, rock climbing, and paragliding, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. For those seeking a more relaxed experience, the tranquil oases and picturesque lakes offer a serene and rejuvenating escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Conservation Efforts in Xinjiang

Preserving the natural wonders and biodiversity of Xinjiang's terrain is a priority for conservationists and environmental organizations. Efforts are being made to protect the fragile ecosystems of the region, including the establishment of nature reserves and protected areas. Conservation initiatives also focus on raising awareness about the importance of preserving Xinjiang's natural heritage and promoting sustainable tourism practices that minimize the impact on the environment. By safeguarding the unique terrain and biodiversity of Xinjiang, conservation efforts aim to ensure that future generations can continue to marvel at the wonders of this remarkable region.

Exploring the Natural Wonders of Xinjiang

Exploring the natural wonders of Xinjiang is an unforgettable experience that offers a glimpse into the raw and untamed beauty of the region. Visitors can witness the surreal landscapes of the Flaming Mountains, where the red sandstone cliffs create an otherworldly atmosphere that has inspired legends and folklore for centuries. The pristine beauty of Heavenly Lake, nestled amidst the Tianshan Mountains, provides a serene and picturesque setting for nature lovers and photographers. The vast expanse of the Taklamakan Desert, with its towering sand dunes and shifting landscapes, offers a sense of solitude and wonder that is unparalleled.

the Flaming MountainsTianshan Mountains

Impact of Xinjiang Terrain on Local Communities

The terrain of Xinjiang has a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of the local communities that call the region home. The diverse geography and climate have shaped the traditional practices and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples, from the agricultural techniques employed in the oases to the nomadic herding cultures of the grasslands. The unique terrain of Xinjiang also plays a critical role in supporting local economies, providing opportunities for tourism, agriculture, and natural resource extraction. The preservation and sustainable management of Xinjiang's terrain are essential for ensuring the well-being and prosperity of the local communities that depend on the region's natural resources.


In conclusion, the terrain of Xinjiang is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and ecological significance. From the rugged mountains to the vast deserts and lush oases, Xinjiang's landscape is a testament to the enduring power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit. As visitors and explorers immerse themselves in the captivating terrain of Xinjiang, they are not only treated to breathtaking vistas and awe-inspiring landscapes but also gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of history, culture, and biodiversity that defines this remarkable region. The wonders of Xinjiang's terrain are a testament to the enduring power of nature and the enduring legacy of human ingenuity.


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