Kyrgyzstan mountain ranges and passes.

From their majestic ice citadels to their sweeping verdant valleys, the mountains are the very soul of Kyrgyzstan. Fearless mountaineers pit their skills against peaks of over 7,000 meters while, far below, day-trippers stroll in flower-strewn alpine valleys. Crystal clear lakes reflect the ever-changing sky and families set up summer yurt camps on the jailoo, high mountain pastures.

The arms of two great mountain ranges embrace over 90 per cent of the country: the Tien Shan ("Heavenly Mountains") stretch for 2,500 km from east to west, while the magnificent melee of snowbound peaks which make up the Tajik Pamir spills its dramatic, arid slopes into southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 30 per cent of the country is blanketed in permanent snow and ice.

Kyrgyzstan's mountains are a playground for climbers. Peak-baggers head for the three giants over 7,000 metres.

Straddling the Kazakh border in the east, Khan Tengri ("Prince of Spirits") is the favourite pin-up - rising to 7,010 metres, its perfect pyramid summit of marble and fluted ridges burns in the sunset with the colours of hot coal, earning itself the nickname Kan Too, "blood mountain".

Vast and bulky Jengish Choko'su, known by its Soviet name, Peak Pobeda, is Kyrgyzstan's highest mountain at 7,439 metres. In the Pamir, Kuh-i-Garmo (Peak Lenin) soars to 7,134 metres and is famous among mountaineers as the easiest "seven-thousander" in the world. Off-limits in Soviet times, nearby ranges boast scores of unclimbed peaks, many of which do not require technical skills or much experience.

The mountains encompass a huge variety of  beautiful landscapes: alpine valleys of heart-stopping green plummet from glistening glaciers to noisy rivers which leap over massive boulders; wide, silent valleys are home to yaks, birds of prey and rare Marco Polo sheep; and forests of ancient walnut, fragrant juniper and elegant Tian-Shan fir cloak the slopes.

You come away with a heart full of stunning panoramas but also more than that. Maybe it's the thin clear air or the long hours of sunlight, maybe the Silk Road relics and ancient petroglyphs you stumble upon, maybe the bewitching beliefs in life-enhancing rivers; but you take away a feeling of wellbeing, as though revived by the magic and mystique of the mountains.

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