Friday, June 26, 2015

The Tragedy of Iran’s Great Salt Lake

This classic Facts So Romantic post originally ran in August, 2014.
The last time my cousin Houman traveled to Lake Urmia was 11 years ago. He and four of his friends piled into his car and drove for roughly 12 hours, snaking west from the capital of Tehran. Iran is shaped like a teapot; its massive saltwater lake is nestled high in the tip of its spout and flanked by the mountains that run along the Turkish border to the west.

They had heard a lot about it. The largest lake in the Middle East and one of the biggest saltwater lakes in the world, Lake Urmia at its peak was a popular draw for vacationers eager to float in its salty water—known for its healing properties—and sunbathe among the flocks of flamingos, pelicans, and yellow deer that made a home at the lake and its hundred-or-so islands.
This was the picture of Lake Urmia that Houman had gotten from my uncle’s descriptions of traveling to the lake 20 years before. But when he and his friends finally pulled up at Lake Urmia’s shores, all they saw was barren whiteness. Stripping down to bathe, their feet were pierced by the jagged edges of salt crystals lining the lakebed. Emerging from the shallow water, their bodies turned white, stinging from the layers of salt clinging to their skin. There were no animals in sight. “The water was disappearing,” Houman said. “It felt like soon there might not be any left.”

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