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Watch horse-drawn sleighs glide across this magical Turkish lake

Orhan Goller takes tourists for a ride on the frozen Lake Çıldır in Turkey
Orhan Goller takes tourists for a ride on the frozen Lake Çıldır in Turkey   -   Copyright  AFP   -  
By Ben Anthony Horton  with AFP

Situated between the eastern provinces of Kars and Ardahan, Turkey’s Lake Çıldır provides an icy backdrop for winter festivities in the heart of the Caucasus mountain range.

As the lake freezes over, tourists take advantage of its frosty surface to enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides across the dramatic landscape.

And for the locals, it’s an opportunity to introduce their customs to a foreign audience.

"Here we keep our culture alive, our traditions from the past,” says Orhan Goller, a seasonal sleigh driver on the lake.

“We show them to the visitors, we explain them, and show them the way of life we have here."

AFP
Traditional Russian troikas are still used on the lake - a throwback to the regions century-old customsAFP

Çıldır is the second largest lake in Turkey’s eastern Anatolia region, spanning an area of more than 123 square kilometres.

Those visiting the district can enjoy a number of traditional activities put on by the local community, including horseback riding, javelin throwing and even a Turkish 'halay' line dance.

But sleigh rides are by far the most popular pursuit, with visitors eager to claim their spot on one of the traditional Russian troikas.

"These carriages are our mode of transportation,” says Goller.

“In the past our grandparents, our ancestors used them to go to the hospital, to travel through to the other villages of the region. And nowadays, people are curious about them, so we give them a ride."

Situated 1,959 metres above sea level, Lake Çıldır starts to freeze at the beginning of winter as the temperature drops to minus ten degrees Celsius at night.

Each year, locals wait patiently for the lake’s icy surface to reach 40 - 45 centimetres in thickness before commencing their activities.

"The lake freezes from December, it will start to melt again in March, and by April it will have completely thawed,” says Goller.

But the festivities don’t end there.

As spring sets in, Lake Çıldır hosts the annual Lovers’ Festival - a colourful celebration attracting visitors from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan to the stunning mountainous region.

Watch the video above to find out more.

Video editor • Ben Anthony Horton