Rolling on the river... Çoruh

The Çoruh River Valley, which extends into the townships of Yusufeli in Artvin and İspir in Erzurum, boasts a landscape as spectacular as it is harsh.

I magine a river, a river that waters lands whose coasts broil in the heat while the surrounding mountains are covered with snow, lands where plants indigenous to both the Mediterranean and
the Black Sea grow, where rare beauty lurks in every corner, a river feared by people when it rushes with such abandon that a folk dance has been named for it.
Imagine a valley, a valley exhibiting the vestiges of many civilizations, where the encircling rocky cliffs are imbued with myriad hues, a valley inhabited by smiling, congenial people. A valley so patient it preserves and passes on to future generations all the treasures entrusted to its keeping...
The valley that takes its name from the Çoruh River, which flows for 442 km through Turkey, possesses a landscape as spectacular as it is vast. The story of the Çoruh, which carved out this valley and which, owing to its topographical structure, ranks among the world’s fastest flowing rivers, begins on the western slopes of Mt Mescit between İspir and Erzurum. Let us begin our tour from there.

Formed by the streams large and small that flow down from Mt Mescit, the Çermeli and Kurt rivers join together to form the Masat, which takes the name Çoruh after the town of Bayburt. Flowing westward, the river turns first northward and then, tracing an arc, directly east. Flowing a little more quietly up to İspir, it widens after this point with the addition of the streams coming from the Kaçkar Mountains National Park, and takes on a sometimes frightening aspect. We can make our first stop at İspir. If you set out from İspir early in the morning, you will arrive first at the village of Moryayla with its relatively unspoiled traditional architecture. Following a two-hour journey by car, the Yedigöller, or Seven Lakes, the most splendid of the Çoruh Basin, will greet you. Just beyond the lakes, which lie there like pearls in a bowl, the Verçenik rises in all its terrifying glory. The Başköy is the first large river to feed the Çoruh here. The next valley is that of the Salaçur, where the streams originating from Lake Mal in the foothills of Verçenik join together to carry the pure waters of the glacier lakes to the Çoruh.
But let us press on to Yusufeli. First the Valley of the Çamlıkaya will appear. Don’t return without sipping a quiet tea. The local people know how to appreciate all of nature’s most modest blessings. Figs are dried in huts along the river bank in summer, and the sun-dried pulp is pressed into thin sheets and molasses boiled up. For it’s essential to prepare well for the harsh winter days. After Çamlıkaya comes Sırakonaklar Valley, so-called because the eponymous village (which translates roughly as ‘Row Mansions’) in the foothills of Mt Soğanlı, the region’s highest peak after the Kaçkars, consists of seven rather widely separated quarters. You will find here large stone houses, mostly built of granite and over a hundred years old. Hiking from the village to the main camping place on Mt Kaçkar takes just a matter of hours.

But you may prefer the Deve Dağı road, the better to see the magnificent landscape and areas influenced by the Çoruh. This route is also characterized by unusual species of plants. You will come first to the village of Güllübağ, then to Ardıçlı, one of the loveliest villages in the whole region. The most beautiful vistas of the Kaçkar Mountains National Park will rise before you when you start the climb from Ardıçlı to Deve Dağı. And if you follow the Deve Dağı road to the end, you will leave the river behind and come to Lake Tortum. Starting from the village of Yokuşlu, the Çoruh embarks on a journey of exactly 100 km through the township of Yusufeli. The sight of its waters leaping meters into the air as they strike the rocks is a scene straight out of an adventure film. From the village of Başalan onwards, nature begins to take on different hues as the Çoruh’s wildness gives way to colorful rock cliffs. The precious metals in the rocks are dissolved in the hot waters issuing from the magma as they pass through and then re-deposited in appropriate places. Natural tableaux are created when these metal deposits
lend their colors to the rocks and soil. For a stretch of close to 20 km the rock formations offer a visual feast of browns, yellows and reds. And accompanying them all the way to Yusufeli is the super-saturated green of the rice paddies that line the river bank.

Having come this close to Yusufeli, you can’t not go on to Kılıçkaya. Kılıçkaya, on a plateau high in the mountains, sits opposite Mt Güngörmez, one of the most magnificent peaks of the Çoruh Basin. There are also completely forgotten caves here, once used as dwelling places. Another spectacular stream, formed by the rivulets rushing down the southern face of the Kaçkar and Altıparmak Mountains, joins the Çoruh here, doubling its power. The confluence of the Barhal, or, by its new name, the Altıparmak River, and the Çoruh is even more awesome than that of the Oltu and the Çoruh.
Before its confluence with the Çoruh, the Oltu is joined first by the Narman, following its meander among the red fairy chimneys of the village of the same name, and then by the Tortum. The waters of the Tortum and the Oltu join 10 km from Yusufeli in an area known as ‘the confluence’. I would recommend that you see the well-preserved church here in the village of İşhan. The Çoruh turns northward after its confluence with the Oltu. Towards Artvin olive groves begin to appear here and there. Its current significantly slowed by the dams built here, the river picks up strength when it is joined by the Berta at Ardanuç. After Borçka it does its best to wear down the tea- planted slopes until, flowing as far as Muratlı, it leaves Turkey. Flowing northeastward through Georgia, it empties into the Black Sea at Batum.
To describe the Çoruh River and its fascinating micro climate you need to know the language of nature. But, best of all, to experience this river for yourself, set aside a week and abandon yourself to its flow. I’m sure you are going to return with unforgettable memories.