This annual snow-melt is vitally important to the landlocked Kyrgyz, supplying water for drinking, agriculture and hydroelectricity.
Each August the ice-locked Merzbacher Lake on the Northern Inylchek Glacier bursts through its ice wall, sending a dramatic plume of water into the air.
The run-off from this and 6,500 other glaciers feeds the trickling streams, which meander through lush mountain pastures before converging noisily in mighty rivers such as the 720 km long Naryn and the Chui. Their furious white water attracts rafters and kayakers from around the world.
Pristine mountain lakes such as lovely Song Kul provide a summer refuge for shepherds and their herds, and pilgrims flock to holy springs in search of cures for ailments and troubles.
But if the lush mountains are tuned to the constant rush of water, the parched lowlands burn hot and dry, and in the south, fields of sunflowers turn their faces to the sun.