Like the Dead Sea, huge Lake Orumiyeh (6000 sq km) is so super salty that you just can’t sink. A Unesco Biosphere Reserve since 1976, it’s become increasingly shallow (with a maximum seasonal depth of 16m) since the Zarrinehrud, a major feeder river, was diverted to slake Tabriz’ growing thirst. Some worry that the lake will soon be as dead as the Aral Sea. Currently the only life form it supports directly is the very primitive, virtually transparent Artemia shrimp. But that’s enough to attract plenty of seasonal migratory birds, notably flamingos (in spring). And the shrimp are commercially harvested for fishmeal.
With a continuing downturn in precipitation, the lake is now around 10% of its former size, which has sparked environmental protests as authorities seem baffled as to how to reverse its shrinking. Crazy plans like diverting water from the Aras River (rejected by Iran’s neighbours) or relocating the population from the western shore (rejected by the inhabitants) have been put forward. A new dam at Silveh on the Lavin River hopes to channel water back into the Orumiyeh Basin. A bridge linking the eastern and western shores that carries the main highway between Orumiyeh and Tabriz effectively cuts the lake in two.
The lake’s hard-to-access, though very photogenic, eastern coastline is starkly barren; the vivid blue waters contrast with jagged, sun-blasted rocks and parched mud-flat islands. The western coast is slightly greener, but the orchards stop well short of the shore. Several travel agencies in Tabriz organize lake trips, including to Kabudi Island, the last resting place of Hulagu Khan, Genghis’ grandson. But there is no reason to make a special trip to the lake, as you’ll get excellent views of it from a Tabriz-bound bus.