Tucked up in the far north-eastern corner of Turkey on the borders with Armenia and Georgia, is the huge and glorious Lake Çıldır (Çıldır Gölü).
The nature and beauty surrounding Lake Çıldır in Ardahan, draws tourists from far and wide all year round. It is the second-biggest lake and the biggest freshwater lake in the eastern Anatolia at 123 square kilometers.
With tourism options offered both in summer and winter, the lake attracts thousands of visitors in addition to locals. It is a popular spot with 17 species of fish as well as nature, flora and other plants and animals.
An icy wonderland
Lake Çıldır is almost totally covered by ice in the winter months. Situated 1,959 meters above sea level, it usually starts to freeze at the beginning of winter as the temperature drops to minus 10 degrees during the night. The lake can stay frozen for up to eight months.
What makes Lake Çıldır unique is that many tourism activities and fishermen’s livelihood start when the lake is frozen.
The troika experience
A unique way to enjoy the lake is to take a tour on a ”troika”. A traditional Russian sleigh, the “troika” will bring joy to your winter holiday and make you feel as if you were on Santa Claus’ sleigh in Lapland.
Ozan Karataş, a troika coachman, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they set off at 8 am with their horses and arrive at the lake an hour or so later to begin the tours. Karataş said they take their horses down on the lake in the Arpaçay district, where they tie the troika sleds to the horses before bringing them to the starting place for the tours. ”We begin our services in the morning in front of our log cabin and we finish at 5:00 pm.”
“People who sled are really happy and say this place is heaven. Lake Çıldır wears its white cover and has a great atmosphere. People should come and see it” he added.
A local tourist who came from İzmir province for a tour in Kars, Narin Bakan said, “We tried troikas in Lake Çıldır, it was really fun. Kars is a beautiful place. I experienced riding on the troikas for the first time in my life and it was amazing and hard to believe.”
Visitors make their way to Kars province on the “Doğu Ekspresi” (Eastern Express), which travels from Istanbul via Ankara to Kars, and has been a popular way to travel since the start of winter.
The journey takes 26 hours and the popularity of the express is incredible given that it was about to close a few years back.
“The Eastern Express was once the main way to travel to and from Kars, Erzurum, Ankara and even Istanbul, but in time it fell into oblivion. Thanks to social media, the nostalgic atmosphere of the express has been revived. The Eastern Express from Ankara to Kars can be like a new Orient Express or Siberian Express.” – Mehmet Dursun, hotel and tourism manager in Kars.
Sources: Anadolu Agency, Turkey From the Inside