THE Borokhoro mountains are the north-western offshoot of the Tien Shan. North of them again are the Zungarian Alatau, which link up the mountain system of Central Chinese Turkistan with the more northern ranges which end in the Great Altai. The Urta Saryk valley connects the Borokhoro with the Alatau.

The valleys of the Tien Shan which run from south to north are nearly all remarkable for their narrow precipitous mouths, which make their ascent extremely difficult. The features of the Urta Saryk are typical of these northern glens.6

The main road from Kulja (Ili) to Manas, climbs the Talki pass, and descends a few feet to the gently-sloping grassy shores of the Sairam Nor, one of the really beautiful Central Asian lakes. North, and immediately opposite, is the watershed between the Sairam Nor and the Urta Saryk. The hills that encircle the lake carry but scanty forest, but on crossing into the Urta Saryk, the traveller meets with steep hill-sides, covered with abundant spruce.

The valley is about seventy-five miles long, and its lower half is precipitous. The left, or northern, side is remarkably so, and the path leads up the right side under high crags. The first twenty miles from where the Chobata pass leads from Sairam into the valley are extremely awkward. Above the precipices on the left side of the valley is a rolling down-like country, ending abruptly 200 to 300 feet from the stream.

As the valley is ascended, it flattens out, the spruce ends, and the appearance of the upper part is rather dreary and forbidding. Hills with scanty grass and much stone rise from the river, which sprawls across the floor of the valley, a fordable but uninteresting stream. Lower down, the same river is a fine mass of water, rushing over large boulders, and quite impassable to laden ponies. At the head of the valley are the snow peaks that form the frontier with Russia. It is not far-fetched to compare the upper half of the Urta Saryk with Ladakh, and the lower half with some offshoot of the Sind valley in Kashmir.

In July 1928 the weather was execrable. Heavy rain fell nearly every day, usually for five or six hours in the afternoon. It was restricted to the upper part of the valley. The flowers in July were nearly over, but the river-sides were carpeted with blue aconite stretching for miles, in great luxuriance. There were quantities of large white gentians—-the blue ones were over. There was also a purple primula of immense height, some of the stems of the flowers being two feet long. No ferns were to be found. The season for flowers in the Tien Shan is much shorter than in the Himalaya, and this applies more especially to the northern valleys.

The Urta Saryk valley was completely deserted, for the Kazaks graze there only during the early winter. To me the absence of man was a great relief.


  1. The Urta Saryk valley is shown on the sketch map at the end of this volume.

⇑ Top