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Home Travel in Qinghai Kunlun Mountains
Kunlun Mountains
Travel in Qinghai

Kunlun Mountains
The Kunlun Mountains
(kūn lún shān 昆仑山) has been known as the Forefather of Mountains in China. The name of the mountain can be found in many Chinese classics, such as The Classics of Mountains and Rivers, Commentary on the Waterways Classics, and Canonization of the Gods (or Gods and Heroes). As legend has it, the goddess of Kunlun is Queen Mother of the West. The adobe of immortals in many ancient books is said to be the Heihai, or the Black Sea (hēi hǎi 黑海) - the source of the Kunlun River (kūn lún hé 昆仑河), 4,300 meters above sea level, with an area of 60 square kilometers. The river region is an ideal home to birds and wild animals, such as wild donkeys, sheep, and brown bears. There are precious murals in Yeniugou (yě niú gōu 野牛沟), or Wild Bull Ditch. Textual research shows that this is where Taoist rites were performed during the late Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).


Kunlun MountainsThe Kunlun Mountains are one of the longest mountain chains in Asia, extending more than 3,000 km. In the broadest sense, it forms the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau south of the Tarim Basin (tǎ lǐ mù pén dì 塔里木盆地) and the Gansu Corridor and continues east south of the Wei River to end at the North China Plain. The exact definition of this range seems to vary. An old source uses Kunlun to mean the mountain belt that runs across the center of China, that is, Kunlun in the narrow sense, Altyn Tagh (ā ěr jīn 阿尔金), Qilian Mountains (qí lián shān 祁连山) and Qin Mountains. A recent source has the Kunlun forming most of the south side of the Tarim Basinand then continuing east south of the Altyn Tagh. Sima Qian (the author of Shiji, sī mǎ qiān 司马迁) says that Emperor Wu of Han (hàn wǔ dì 汉武帝) sent men to find the source of the Yellow River and gave the name Kunlun to the mountains at its source (in scroll 123 of Shiji). The name seems to have originated as a semi-mythical location in the Shan Hai Jing (shān hǎi jīng 山海经, an ancient geography book in China).


Kunlun MountainsFrom the Pamirs of Tajikistan, it runs east along the border between Xinjiang (xīn jiāng 新疆) and Tibet autonomous regions (xī zàng zì zhì qū 西藏自治区) to the Sino-Tibetan ranges in Qinghai province. It stretches along the southern edge of what is now called the Tarim Basin, the infamous Taklamakan or "sand-buried houses" desert, and the Gobi Desert. A number of important rivers flow from it including the Karakash River (kā lā kā shí hé 喀拉喀什河, which is called “Black Jade River”) and the Yurungkash River (yù lóng kā shí hé 玉龙喀什河, which is known as “White Jade River”), which flow through the Khotan Oasis into the Taklamakan Desert (tǎ kè lǎ mǎ gān shā mò塔克拉玛干沙漠).

Altyn-Tagh or Altun Range is one of the chief northern ranges of the Kunlun. Nan Shan or its eastern extension Qilian is another main northern range of the Kunlun. In the south main extension is the Min Shan (岷山). Bayan Har Mountains (bā yán kā lā shān mài 巴颜喀拉山脉), a southern branch of the Kunlun Mountains, forms the watershed between the catchment basins of China's two longest rivers, the Yangtze River (cháng jiāng 长江) and the Huang He (huáng hé 黄河).

Kunlun GoddessThe highest mountain of the Kunlun Shan is the Kunlun Goddess (7,167 m,gōng gé ěr fēng 公格尔峰) in the Keriya area. The Arka Tagh (Arch Mountain) is in the center of the Kunlun Shan; its highest point is Ulugh Muztagh. Some authorities claim that the Kunlun extends north westwards as far as Kongur Tagh (7,649 m) and the famous Muztagh Ata (7,546 m). But these mountains are physically much more closely linked to the Pamir group (ancient Mount Imeon).

The mountain range formed at the northern edges of the Cimmerian Plate during its collision, in the Late Triassic, with Siberia, which resulted in the closing of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean (gǔ tè tí sī yang 古特提斯洋). The range has very few roads and in its 3,000 km length is crossed by only two. In the west, Highway 219 traverses the range en route from Yecheng (yè chéng 叶城), Xinjiang to Lhatse (lā zī 拉孜), Tibet. Further east, Highway 109 crosses between Lhasa and Golmud.


The Kunlun Mountains are almost totally isolated from the climatic influence of the Indian and Pacific Ocean monsoons. Instead, they are under the constant influence of the continental air mass, which causes great annual and diurnal temperature fluctuations. Maximum aridity occurs in the middle segment of the mountain system; to the west and east, however, the climate is somewhat moderated.

In the most arid part of the Kunlun Mountains, precipitation is less than 2 inches (50 mm) annually in the foothills and about 4 to 5 inches (100 to 150 mm) in the high elevations; near the Pamirs and the Tibetan mountains, the amount of annual precipitation increases to about 18 inches (460 mm). In the lower tier of mountains (those bordering the northern plains), the average temperature is 77 to 82 °F (25 to 28 °C) in July and not lower than 16 °F (−9 °C) in January; in the upper tier of mountains and on the border of Tibet, however, the average temperature in July is less than 50 °F (10 °C) and often falls to −31 °F (−35 °C) or lower in winter.

The extremely sharp daily fluctuations of temperature in the high-elevation zone create conditions of intense weathering from heat and frost, producing enormous quantities of loose material in those areas. Also characteristic of the Kunlun Mountains are their high winds, the strongest of which occur in autumn; the winds of the Qaidam Basin are particularly noteworthy.

Animal Life

Tibetan gazelleThe desert or, at best, steppe conditions prevailing throughout the Kunlun Mountains inhibit development of vegetation. Much of the terrain consists of rock deserts. Occasional stagnant water pools provide browsing and water for several wild ungulates, such as the Tibetan gazelle (zàng yuán ling 藏原羚) and Tibetan goat antelope (also known as chiru, zàng líng yang 藏羚羊), along with large herds of wild asses (also known as kiang, xī zàng yě lǘ 西藏野驴) and clusters of wild yaks (yě máo niú 野牦牛). In the more humid western mountains, argali sheep (also called Ovis ammon, pán yáng 盘羊) graze on the high grasslands. On the upper crags blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur, yán yáng岩羊), Ladakh urials, and ibex range sporadically throughout the western reaches. Willow thickets near watercourses frequently contain brown bears, and wolves are endemic; the snow leopard is rare. Many migratory waterfowl visit the lakes during seasonal migration.

Mythology of Kunlun Mountain

The Kunlun Mountains are believed to be Taoist paradise. The first to visit this paradise was, according to the legends, King Mu (976-922 BCE) of the Zhou Dynasty. He supposedly discovered there the Jade Palace of Huang-Di, the mythical Yellow Emperor and originator of Chinese culture, and met Hsi Wang Mu (xī wáng mǔ 西王母), the “Spirit Mother of the West” usually called the “Queen Mother of the West”, who was the object of an ancient religious cult which reached its peak in the Han Dynasty, also had her mythical abode in these mountains. Jesuit missionaries, the noted American Sinologist Charles Hucker, and London University’s Dr Bernard Leeman (2005) have suggested that Hsi Wang Mu and the Queen of Sheba (shì bā 士巴) were one and the same person. The transcendency of Sheba, a religious group, believes that the Queen of Sheba's pre-Deuteronomic Torah recorded in the Kebra Nagast was influential in the development of Daoism. They insist that after vacating the throne for her son Solomon the queen journeyed to the Kunlun Mountains where, known as the Queen from the West, she attained spiritual enlightenment.

Kunlun Martial Arts

Kunlun Mountain FistThe Kunlun Mountains are associated with a number of different martial arts, and are considered by some as an alternate source for the Daoist martial arts (Wudang being traditionally claimed as the source.) Some styles associated with the Kunlun Mountains: Kunlun Mountain Fist (kūn lún quán 昆仑拳) is a style associated with the Kunlun mountain range, although similarities between this style and Kunlun Fist, as well as the name of one of the forms (White Cloud Mountain Fist) suggest that this style may be associated with Kunlun Mountain in Shandong province. Kunlun Fist may be named after the Kunlun mountain range, or it may be named after Kunlun Mountain in Shandong province.

History of Kunlun Martial Arts

The sect's history traces back to the Zhou Dynasty during the reign of King Wu. According to legend, its founders were the mythological figures Laozi (lǎo zǐ 老子) and Yuanshi Tianzun (yuán shǐ tiān zūn 原始天尊). The latter had 12 disciples, who later became the Twelve Elders of Kunlun. Although Kunlun has its roots in Taoism, its members do not strictly follow Taoist customs and practices.

Kunlun's rise to prominence in the wulin (martial artists' community) only came after pugilists such as He Zudao (hé zú dào 何足道) made their names through their prowess in martial arts and by doing deeds of gallantry. He Zudao's successors led the sect towards greater heights and achieving its status in the wulin as one of the leading orthodox sects. The Kunlun Sect has the greatest strength and highest fame of all martial arts sects in the western regions of China.

Kunlun has a strict code of conduct laid down for its members, who are forbidden from associating with people from unorthodox sects or else they will be expelled. Although Kunlun is considered to be a Taoist sect just like Quanzhen (quán zhēn 全真) and Wudang (wǔ dāng 武当), it accepts students of both genders, and members are allowed to marry and start families, and are not bound by any regulation to maintain vegetarian diets.

One notable trait of the sect is that it has a strong desire to become one of the superpowers in the wulin, and some members are especially extreme in their plans towards achieving this goal. In Jin Yong's The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, He Zudao and He Taichong (hé tài chōng 何太冲) are depicted as ruthless and ambitious individuals who wish to dominate the wulin. He Taichong, in particular, is depicted as a morally bankrupt villain who resorts to unscrupulous means in his attempt to seize hold of the Dragon Slaying Saber and use it against his rivals.


Kunlun Mountain Pass

Kunlun Mountain PassThe Kunlun mountain pass (kūn lún shān kǒu 昆仑山口) is 160 kilometers to the south of Golmud, and the altitude rises abruptly from 2,800 meters to 4,700 meters and the temperature and air pressure drop accordingly. You will be suddenly transferred from hot summer to a severe winter with the magnificent snow white Kunlun surrounding you. Kunlun is not only famous for its grandeur but also for the color jade it produces. It is called Kunlun Jade. Rare animals can be seen are leaping and skipping among the snow and the grassland, presenting a beautiful picture of nature. The pass, 4,767 meters above sea level, is in the middle section of the mountain range. It is an obligatory section of the route between Qinghai and Tibet.

Location: Middle section of Kunlun Mountain, 160 kilometers away from Golmud
Tel: 0977-8222015
Transportation: Reach to Golmud by plane from Sining. Then drive to the Kunlun Mountain pass.
Opening Hours: The whole day
Admission Fee: Free