Dzhungaria - sacred highland area
The Dzhungarskiy (Semirechenskiy) Alatau is located between the basin of Lake Alakol, eastern part of Lake Balkhash and the Ili River Valley. It enters Kazakhstan only with its northern and north-western parts and numerous branches of various length and height. The range is almost 450 km. The maximum width from the south to the north exceeds 120 km.
Like most main ranges in Central Asia, this one is elongated in the latitudinal direction from the west – south-west to the east – north-east, along the national border between Kazakhstan and China.
The Dzhungarskiy Alatau , in latitude between 44 and 26 north, is a mountain system rather than a single range, consisting of several – but mainly two – high parallel ranges: northern and southern. These are two main folds of the synclinal bowing of this range, each of them consisting of several parallel ridges of various length and altitude: Karatau, Baskantau, Toksanbai, Bezhintau, etc. Toksanbai and Bezhintau ranges are connected with the main northern range with a small bridge which simultaneously divides the upper reaches of the Koksu and Borotala rivers. Front ranges of these mountain systems are connected with branches of the Borohoro Range China. The highest peaks are located in the northern part and reach 4,464 m above sea level (Besbaskan Mountains). The southern ridges are lower – not more than 4,187 to 4,359 m above sea level (Tyshkantau Mountains). That is why some higher tops of the main range massif have permanent snow and ice. The number of glaciers exceeds 1,000. Many of them are 8 km long, and their total area is 1,100 km2 (though reducing continuously).
The snow line on the northern slope of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau is lower – 3,200 to 3,400 m above sea level, while higher than 3,500 m on the southern slope.
Glaciers, snow and underwater feed the rivers which flow from the northern slope to lakes Balkhash, Alakol and Sasykol, and from the southern slope to the Ili River.
The so called Dzhungarskiye Gates are between the ranges Dzhungarskiy Alatau and Barlyk (50 km, 10 km wide in the narrowest point, 300 to 400 m above sea level). The Gates connect the с Balkhash-Alakol Basin with the Dzhungarskaya Plain and Lake Ebi-Nur depression. The place used to be part of the Great Silk Road.
The annual isotherm on the northern slope of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau >Range is in the upper line of the spruce forests, at about 2,600 to 2,700 m above sea level. The average annual temperature above this line is negative, and near the snow line, 15 to 20°С colder than at the foothills.
Overall, the flora of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau is close to the one of the mountain ranges near the mountain systems of the Zailiiski and Kungei Alatau: they have about ¾ of common species. More than a half are close tot eh flora of the Saur-Tarbagatai and Altai, as well as some remote ridges of the Tien Shan and Pamiro-Altai.
At the same time, botanical and geographical elements of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau have their own regional peculiarities. The mountainous relief creates versatile geographical conditions, and the direct orographic link to Altai and Tien Shan enhances intrusion of the Central Asian woodland and steppe flora. Thanks to this, botanical and geographical elements of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau have a distinctively richer flora, more grassland and arctic-alpine species, and sparse Central Asian desert species.
The Dzhungarskiy Alatau has more than 76 endemic species of plants, including the relic maple (Acer semenovii Regel et Herd), pinnate speedwell (Veronica pinnata), etc.