The Karula Upland

The Karula Upland (350 km2) borders on the Otepää Upland. They are divided from each other only by the Valga and Hargla depressions, the Karula Upland also reaches into Latvia. The upland is much lower than the Otepää and Haanja Uplands, but it has a similar uneven hillocky relief with numerous depressions.

Although the area of the Karula Upland is small, several different regions can be distinguished here. The biggest and best-formed dome-shaped hillocks dominate in the northeastern part of the upland between Kaika and Rimmu, where the upland borders on the Otepää Upland. The most representative and the densest fields of such forms can be found in the neighbourhood of Kaika, Veetka and Lüllemäe Villages. These landforms are till-covered kames, and are densely located. Very often two or three of them have accumulated together, and their usual relative height is 10–25 meters. The highest “peak” of Karula Upland, Tornimägi (137 m), is located near Lüllemäe.

12 000 years ago the 15-kilometre thick ice covering the territory of the present-day Estonia began to melt, and the ice retreated northwards. Three ice strips that moved along the Võrtsjärv, Peipsi and Hargla vales, met at today’s Karula and stayed put for some time. Hillocks and eskers, ‘the Karula hills’, emerged where the lakes had melted in the ice field. At first, the holes and cracks in the ice filled with water and turned into ice lakes. Turbulent glacier rivers amassed coarse material at the bottom of the lake, mostly gravel. When the ice later melted further, the glacier rivers calmed down and the lake bottom was covered with finer sediment, moraine. After the blocks of ice had completely melted, the water flowed from the lake, and the sediment at the bottom formed hillocks and eskers. Hollows and valleys appeared in place of the ice blocks surrounding the lake. characteristic oblong fan-shaped esker-like ridges, with paludified plains between them.

Although the area of the Karula Upland is small, several different regions can be distinguished here. The biggest and best-formed dome-shaped hillocks dominate in the northeastern part of the upland between Kaika and Rimmu, where the upland borders on the Otepää Upland. The most representative and the densest fields of such forms can be found in the neighbourhood of Kaika, Veetka and Lüllemäe Villages. These landforms are till-covered kames, and are densely located. Very often two or three of them have accumulated together, and their usual relative height is 10–25 meters. The highest “peak” of Karula Upland, Tornimägi (137 m), is located near Lüllemäe.

The field of dome-shaped hillocks at Kaika is the most representative one in Estonia. This area is surrounded with hummocky relief, where, besides kames, moraine hillocks can also be found. In the southeast and west of this region there is an area covered with hillocks and ridges of highly variegated size and shape, which are separated from each other by numerous lake depressions. In the mid-upland there is a large level-bottomed excavation depression. On the southwestern edge of this area lies picturesque Lake Aheru. This large area borders in the southeast and south on the Koobassaare ridge, dividing the Karula Upland roughly into two halves. Northwest of the ridge lies the larger area of mostly hillocky relief. In the southeast, around Silla and Pikassaare, lies the kame-esker area, consisting of characteristic oblong fan-shaped esker-like ridges, with paludified plains between them.

There are about 60 lakes in the Karula upland and Hargla depression. 38 of them are situated within the borders of the Karula National Park. The order of lakes by size runs as follows: Ähijärv, Ubajärv and Koobassaare lake, then somewhere in the middle come Õdre, Kallete, Mikile, Rebasejärv and Köstrejärv, along with many similar ones. The list ends with Põrgujärv and Mustjärv. The 3-km long Ähijärv is by far the largest lake with its sinuous coastline, hillocks and sandy shores. It is clearly visible across the fields from the Antsla-Saru road. The word stem ‘ähi’ is probably connected with the name of water god Ahti; many bodies of water considered sacred have names derived from that, e.g. Ahja river. In the 1930s, about 30 000 crayfish were caught in the lake each year. Later the crayfish perished because of crayfish plague and fertilisation, but Ähijärv now has them again.

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