Lake Van, virtually an inland sea of almost 4000 square kilometres, at an elevation of 1750m, is one of the most unusual features of eastern Turkey. Along with Lake Sevan in Armenia and Lake Urumiya in Iran, it is one of a trio of huge upland lakes without outlets in the region. Surrounded on all sides by a narrow but fertile plain, and then mountains, the lake – nearly 200m deep in spots – occupies what was once a lowland basin that was later dammed by lava flowing from Nemrut Dağı. Owing to rapid evaporation in this desert climate, the lake water is highly alkaline, rendering it slightly soapy and slimy to the touch; local people can sometimes be seen washing clothes at the shoreline.
You can swim from the stony beaches on and opposite Akdamar Island, and along the more sparsely populated stretches of shoreline, but it’s inadvisable to bathe near Tatvan or Van because of pollution. In places the shoreline is littered with plastic detritus washed up from the lake – it’s a major eyesore and a public awareness campaign launched in 2009 has had little appreciable effect. Two species of fish – one called dareka – live in the lake though only where fresh water enters. They are caught for food during spring when, salmon-like, they migrate up incoming streams to spawn.
The lake is on the main bird migration route to Africa and is a magnet for serious bird watchers. Pelican and flamingo can be seen as well as the rare white-headed duck, velvet scoter and paddyfield warbler. The Van cat, a fluffy white beast endowed naturally with one blue and one gold eye, is now rare, but a few specimens are still kept at local hotels and carpet shops as tourist bait, and there is a breeding station (open to visitors) on the campus of Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl university. Reports of a bus-sized Van Canavarı (Van Monster) have been made since the 1960s.Read More