Çoruh River Valley
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.
FIRST STOP İSPİR
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
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.
LIKE A PAINTER
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.
AT THE CONFLUENCE OF TWO RIVERS
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