The reflection of fluffy white clouds in the glittery rosy apricot face of the lake, the flocks of beautiful birds, and the charming snow-capped mountainous view keep people in wonder. Urmia Lake is one of few saline bodies of our planet in the northwest of Iran that stands out as a unique treasure.
Up to the northwest of Iran, between West and East Azerbaijan Provinces, Urmia Lake widens its warm arms. The Talkhineh River, Zarineh River, and Simineh River carry the melted snow of the Zagros Mountains and end their journey to this lake. This natural wonder is located at an elevation of 1,275 metres above sea level among volcanic cones, mountains, and plateaus.
Urmia Lake is not only the largest inland lake of Iran, but also it is the largest hypersaline lake in the Middle East and the sixth large saline lake in the world. The surface differs during summers and winters but normally it covers an area varying between 5000 to 6000 square kilometres. The depth of water in this still lake is 16 metres at its most and there are approximately 102 islands in its heart. The salt content of Urmia Lake ranges between 8 to 28 per cent depending on the wet and dry season. This extreme salinity of water placed Urmia Lake in the second rank after the Dead Sea in Jordan.
"Urmya" meaning wavy is the original Urartian name of Urmia Lake. The earliest mention of Urmia Lake is related to an Assyrian record. To be precise, it dates back to the 9th century B.C.E. It seems that as the central element of the Mannaean settlement, it has great importance. According to historical documents, Urmia Lake was considered a spectacular natural attraction and strategic spot of Iran before the Mongol invasion.
In those years, Urmia Lake was deep enough for riding big boats and small ships and it was a bridge between east and west world. During the region of the second Qajar King, Fath-Ali Shah permitted the Russians to ride their boats in this lake and transport goods to and from neighbour lands. But in the next years, it was given back to the local ruler of the Azerbaijan region, Emam Gholi Mirza.
During the early years of the 19th century, Indian spices, Turkish clothes, and Russian ironworks were transported through this lake. In 1906, the pieces of a steamship were brought from Germany and the first ship with the steam engine was floated in Urmia Lake to brisk up transportation system.
Urmia is not the only salt lake in the Iranian plateau. There are numerous permanent and seasonal salty lakes with eye-catching panorama platforms. Hoze-Sultan in Qom, Bakhtegan and Maharloo lakes near Shiraz, Khor at the southern parts, and Kaji on the northern skirts of the central deserts of Iran are some of these spectacular phenomena. Most of these lakes get more attractive on some days of the year. A kind of algae growing in the lake’s bed is normally green but in spring and summer when the water level is low, confronting the sunlight, the leaves of the algae turn red. That is the reason for the nice pinkish or red hue of the lake.
The combination of this gorgeous colour and white salted shores tempt visitors to see this beauty. "Kazem Dashi" is a famous area on the north of the lake which is the best spot to visit the whole beauty of the lake. From this specific location, you have a picturesque panorama view of the lake and some peninsulas.
Due to its abundant salt content (20 to 30 per cent saline quality), there is no vegetation life near Urmia lake but on a fair farther surrounding land, wide green meadows are getting full of flowers in spring and summer. The shoreline and islands of Urmia Lake are homes for so many creatures: from microscopic species of bacteria and phytoplankton to insects, molluscs, and reptiles. One of the most precious inhabitants of this super-salty lake is a rare brine shrimp, Artemia. Artemia is the favourite food source for migrant birds like flamingos, ducks, pelicans, gulls, spoonbills and avocets who choose the Urmia National Park as their safe home for a season.
Urmia Lake is not only a natural attraction but also a healing centre. Taking a bath in its salty water or covering the body with its grey mud can help ease the pain of some rheumatology diseases, like Arthritis, or treat some skin diseases like Lupus. Another fun experience is swimming in the saltiest lake in Iran. Thanks to the extreme amount of salt you can enjoy resting and chilling on the water surface without any concern of getting sunk.
In 1976, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) labelled Urmia Lake as a protected biosphere reserve to help its sustainable development. But Unfortunately due to climate changes and human factors, this beautiful lake is in great danger of disappearance. Urmia Salt Lake was twice as large as Luxembourg about 30 years ago, but it got shrunk considerably. The Iranian environmental activists try their bests to draw worldwide attention to this part of the earth and carry out effective plans to revive the lake. Salt storms sweeping the lakebed destroy the nearby agricultural fields, decrease the quality of air and water in the great scale of neighbour cities and countries, and of course make so many animals homeless. The good news is that by managing water resources like decreasing the number of water dams or banning the extra use of underground water sources, the restoration of the lake is possible.
By Samaneh Zohrabi / TasteIran