Kunlun (kŏnˈlŏnˈ) [key], great mountain system of central Asia, between the Himalayas and the Tian Shan, extending c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) E from the Pamir Mts., along the Tibet-Xinjiang border in W China and into Qinghai prov., where it branches into the mountain ranges of central China; it rises to 25,340 ft (7,724 m) in Muztag (Ulugh Mus Tagh), NE Tibet. The Kunlun's main branches are the Altun Mts. (Altyn Tagh) and Nan Shan in the north; the Min Shan in the south; and the Qinling Shan in the east. The Kunlun system acts as a natural barrier between N Tibet and the Tarim basin of Xinjiang; streams rising on the northern slope of the Kunlun disappear into the basin's desert sands. Great sections of the system are inaccessible and uninhabited; there is a very small nomad population, and yaks are the beasts of burden in the high mountain passes.
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