The Altai Mountains also known as Altay Mountains, are a mountain chain in Central and East Asia that connects Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhistan. The rivers Irtysh and Ob originate in the Altai Mountains. In the northeast, the mountain range meets the Sayan Mountains, and in the southeast, it gradually descends before joining the high plateau of the Gobi Desert. It extends from roughly 84° to 99° E and 45° to 52° N.
The Turkic-Mongolian word Altan, which means “golden,” is where the name of the jagged mountain ranges originates.
The Altai Mountain range is divided into three distinct sections known as the Altai proper, the Mongolian Altai, and the Gobi Altai. With an elevation of 14,783 feet (4,506 meters), Belukha, a summit in the Altai proper, is the peak in the range. These mountains were once secluded and thinly populated, but during the 20th century, they were opened up to exhaustive resource exploitation, which led to a rapid transformation of the indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of life.
1. 7 Amazing Facts About the Altai Mountains
Archaeological discoveries suggest that some of the earliest civilizations may have resided in the Altai. The Altai’s present population is comprised of both native Altais and Russian settlers. The Altai people represent a mixture of numerous Turkic tribes.
The Uighurs, Oguz, Kypchak-Kimaks, Yenisey Kyrgyz, and others were the earliest indigenous groups. The Tugyu Turks arrived in the Altai Mountains around 550 C.E., settling near the Ob River’s headstream and in the Kuznetsk Alatau’s foothills.
The Telengit and Telesy people moved from Mongolia’s Tunlo River to the Altai Mountains in the 8th century. The Kumanda, Teleut, and Telengit tribes were created as a result of the Kimak Tribal Union, which was established around 900 C.E. Up until the eighteenth century, the Dzungarian state, which had its headquarters in northwest China, ruled over the Altai. The Chinese added Dzungaria into Sinkiang in 1758 and launched a genocide campaign against the Altai inhabitants.
The native Altai became acquainted with the Russians during the eighteenth century, and they started to colonize them. Through an orthodox mission, a large proportion of Altai was converted to Christianity. In 1866, Russia invaded and occupied the area.
Burkhanizm, a form of Lamaist Buddhism that incorporates elements of Shamanism, spread among the Altay at the end of the 19th century and laid the groundwork for a new nationalist movement that was put down in 1904. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Altai leaders chose to side with the Mensheviks and demanded the establishment of a separate Oyrot republic.
By creating the Oyrot Autonomous Oblast in 1922, the Soviet Union gave the Altai region nominal identification. The name of the region was altered to Gorno-Altay Autonomous Oblast in 1948 after the designation “Oyrot” was deemed counter-revolutionary. It was renamed the Altai Republic in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Huge numbers of ethnic Russians moved into the region during the twentieth century as a result of Russian industrialization, and by 1950 the Altais natives comprised only 20% of the population.
1.2. World Heritage Site
The Golden Mountains of Altai are a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans a huge expanse of 16,175 km2, including the Altai, Mount Belukha, Katun Natural Reserves, the Ukok Plateau, and Lake Teletskoye. According to the UNESCO description of the site the area “represents the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in central Siberia, from the steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, subalpine vegetation to alpine vegetation.” UNESCO also noted the significance of the Russian Altai for the preservation of species of mammals that are currently threatened with extinction, including the snow leopard and the Altai argali, the world’s biggest mountain sheep.
The 845,000 square kilometer-large system of isolated mountains known as the Altai Mountains is located in central Asia. The Altai mountain ranges stretch for 2,525 kilometers from northwest to southeast.
The Sailughem Mountains also referred to as the Kolyvan Altai, are located in the north of the area and extend northeast from 49° N and 86° E to 51° 60′ N and 89° E, which is the western edge of the Sayan Mountains. Their average altitude ranges from 1,500 to 1,750 m. The snowline is at 2,000 meters on the northern side and 2,400 meters on the southern side, and the rough peaks rise about 1,000 meters higher than that.
The Ulan-daban at 2,827 m and the Chapchan-daban at 3,217 m, in the south and north respectively, are the two most important mountain passes that traverse the range. The great plateau of Mongolia flanks this range on its east and southeast sides, with the transformation being influenced slowly by a number of smaller plateaus, including Ukok (2,380 m) with Kendykty (2,500 m), Pazyryk Valley, Kak (2,520 m), and Chuya (1,830 m).
The Altai region is covered with huge lakes. These lakes include Uvs, which is 720 meters above sea level, and Khyargas, Dorgon, and Khar, which are 1,170 meters. The prominent mountain ranges that cross this region are the Tannu-Ola Mountains, which run parallel to the Sayan Mountains and extend as far east as the Kosso-gol, and the Khan Khökhii Mountains, which extend west and east.
The Sailughem Mountains’ northern and western slopes are pretty steep and challenging to reach. On this side is located the highest peak in the range, the double-headed Belukha, whose summits measure 4,406 and 4,440 meters respectively, and are the source of many glaciers. It is also known as Uch-Sumer by the Altaians. Khüiten Peak, located in Mongolia, is the range’s second-highest summit. This enormous peak is 4374 meters high.
The area between the Sailughem mountains and the lowlands of Tomsk is packed with numerous spurs that emerge from those mountains in all directions. These include the Tigeretsk Range, the Kholzun Range, the Korgon, the Talitsk, and Selitsk ranges, as well as the Chuya Belki, which have an average altitude of about 3,000 m and are mainly covered in snow. The Chuya Belki have summits ranging in height from 3,500 to 4,177 m, and they have numerous glaciers on their northern side.
Researchers also discerned a few lower-elevation secondary plateaus. The Katun Valley starts as a wild canyon on the southwestern side of Belukha. The 600 km long river penetrates the Katun Belki and reaches a wider valley at an elevation of 600 to 1,100 m, where it continues until it unfolds from the Altai highlands to connect the Biya river in a most scenic location. The Ob River is made up of the Katun and the Biya together.
The Talitsk and Baschelaksk Range and the Korgon and Tigeretsk Range can be found on either side of the Charysh Valley. From this valley, the Altai mountains offer the most dreamy views, along with the tiny but deep Kolyvan Lake and its amazing granite domes and towers.
The Uba, Ulba, and Bukhtarma valleys expand southwestwards toward the Irtysh. The lower Uba is densely inhabited; in the Ulba Valley, at the base of the Ivanovsk Peak, covered in alpine meadows, is the Riddersk mine.
The Bukhtarma valley, which is 320 km long and begins at the base of the Belukha and Kuitun mountain ranges, offers the most remarkable contrasts in topography and vegetation as it descends 1,500 m in roughly 300 km from an alpine plateau at an altitude of 1,900 m to the Bukhtarma fortress. Glaciers abound in its upper section, which flows from the Belukha. The Katun glacier, located on the northern slopes of the mountain chain separating the upper Bukhtarma from the upper Katun, expands to 700 to 900 meters after two icefalls. The Katun river erupts tumultuously from a cave in this glacier.
The Russian farmers, serfs, and religious schismatics (Raskolniks) occupied the middle and lower portions of the Bukhtarma valley in the 18th century and established a free republic there on Chinese soil. After this portion of the valley was conquered by Russia in 1869, it was instantly colonized. The only people who visit the high valleys further north on the same western face of the Sailughem range are Kyrgyz shepherds.
Telengit people live on the Bashkaus, Chulyshman, and Chulcha mountain passes that lead to the Teletskoye lake. The lake’s shores ascend nearly sheer to a height of more than 1,800 m. The Biya emerges from this lake and merges with the Katun at Biysk before meandering through the steppe.
The Kuznetsk district, which has a bit distinct geological aspect but is still part of the Altai structure, continues the Altai highlands farther north. A frontier range, the Ek-tagh or Mongolian Altai rises in a sharp and high ledge from the Dzungarian depression (470–900 m) but plunges on the north by a fairly short gradient to the north-western Mongolia’s plateau (1,150–1,680 m).
It divides the Khovd basin on the north from the Irtysh basin on the south. A double series of mountain ranges that are all at significantly lower altitudes and exhibit less pronounced orographical features continue the range east of 94° E. Kyrgyz nomads predominately reside on the slopes of the system’s individual chains.
The great Asiatic anticyclones, or high-pressure areas, have a major effect on the region’s climate, making it very continental. The long, icy winter lasts for months. January temperature varies from 14 °C (7 °F) in the foothills to 32 °C (26 °F) in the confined hollows of the east, whereas in the Chuya steppes, it can get as cold as 60 °C (76 °F). Like in northern Siberia, irregular permafrost tracts are formed by prolonged periods of cold weather.
In contrast to winter, summers are brief and don’t typically reach extreme temperatures. Even though July’s daytime highs frequently reach 24 °C (75 °F) and even 40 °C (104 °F) on the lower slopes, summers are typically brief and cold in the higher altitudes. Rainfall is intense in the west, especially at elevations between 1,500 and 2,000 meters, ranging from 500 to 1,000 mm (20 to 40 inches) to up to 2,000 mm (80 inches) annually. If you move further east, the total amount of precipitation drops to one-third of that amount, and some regions experience no snow at all.
The Altai Mountains can be divided into four clearly distinct vegetation zones: alpine regions, mountain forests, mountain steppe, and mountain sub-desert. The mountain sub-desert is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai’s hollows and lower slopes.
Due to the region’s hot summers and scant summer rains; the vegetation includes xerophytic and halophytic plants. The elevation of the mountain steppe zone ranges from 600 meters in the north to 6,600 meters in the south and east. Sod grasses, forb species, and steppe shrubs are characteristics of grasslands and mixed-grass steppes.
The mountain forest zone makes up about seven-tenths of the total area and is primarily found in the middle and low mountains. Forests rise up to elevations of 6,600 feet but on the drier slopes of the central and eastern Altai, forests rise to an altitude of about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). Although secondary birch and aspen forests cover a significant portion of the area, coniferous varieties like larches, firs, and pines are more common.
In the Mongolian and Gobi Altai, there is hardly any forest belt, but solitary clusters of coniferous trees develop in river valleys. Only the highest ridges have alpine vegetation, which consists of subalpine shrubs giving way to meadows that are frequently used for summer pasture before becoming covered in moss, bare rock, and ice.
The Siberian Altai represents the northernmost region impacted by the tectonic concussion between India and Asia. The region is traversed by vast fault systems, including the Kurai fault zone and the newly discovered Tashanta fault zone. These fault structures are thrusts or right-lateral strike-slip faults, and a few of these are tectonically active. In the mountains, the predominant rock types are metamorphic schists and granites, some of which are extremely sheared close to fault zones.
A colossal earthquake measuring MW 7.3 occurred on September 27, 2003, in the area around Chuya Basin to the south of the Altai territory, despite earthquakes typically being rare. The Beltir village was destroyed by this earthquake and its aftershocks, which also caused $10.6 million in damage.
The concussion of the Eurasian Continent with the Indian Peninsula is the primary cause of geological occurrences in the Altai mountains.
The Altai Mountains are well known for their ore deposits as well as their potential for hydroelectric power generation. The principal range helps operate huge mines and smelters for nonferrous metals like copper, lead, and zinc. Agriculture and the raising of livestock are two other significant economic activities in the area, particularly among the nomadic tribes of the arid southern Mongolian Altai Mountains.
The beautiful mountain peaks and lakes, as well as the health resorts built around the region’s mineral springs, draw visitors. Numerous outdoor pursuits and sports are accessible, including rafting, caving, snorkeling, snowboarding, horseback riding, trekking, mountaineering, and scenic drives. An international event organized on the Katun River is the Chuya Rafting Rally.