“It is like flying with a plane,” said Serpil Gökyıldırım, who traveled from Istanbul to the eastern province of Kars to enjoy troika rides on frozen Lake Çıldır.
The second largest lake in eastern Anatolia covering 123,000 square meters, Lake Çıldır is now coated with 25 centimeters of ice, enabling traditional troikas to ride over it. Every year, when the lake is frozen, the villagers of Taşbaşı get their horses ready for a ride on the ice. The troika coachmen also offer tourists visiting the lake a chance to take the ride of their lives.
Gökyıldırım is one of the many tourists who came to Kars to experience this traditional sport. Although riders may experience a burst of adrenaline as the ice cracks under the feet of the horses, riding troikas across Lake Çıldır is completely safe and the locals have been doing it for centuries.
Kars has always been a favorite winter destination in eastern Anatolia but its popularity jumped sky high with the Eastern Express, an old train line between the capital Ankara and Kars that has become popular in recent years. The express experienced a spike in interest after its passengers shared their journeys on social media, and the train has become not only a mode of transportation but also a doorway to adventure in eastern Anatolia.
Filiz Şenli came to Kars for the first time with a tour operator. Sharing her troika experience on the frozen lake Şenli said: “It is extremely joyful. I am a skier, and the feeling of riding a troika is exactly the same. It is peaceful. It is totally worth coming here.”
Situated 1,959 meters above sea level, Lake Çıldır usually starts to freeze in the beginning of winter as the temperature drops to -10 degrees Celsius during the night. Although the lake and its surroundings are a gift from Mother Nature, what makes Lake Çıldır unique is that tourism activities and the fishermen's livelihoods begin once the lake is frozen.
When the troikas are taken to the land for the day, it is time for the fishermen to take over the lake. The fishermen start fishing on the frozen lake once the ice thickens to at least 15 centimeters. They open holes on the ice in order to cast their nets into the frigid water. The fish are said to be more delicious when caught after Lake Çıldır is frozen.