WESTERN SHORE OF LAKE BAIKAL
On the western side of Lake Baikal is more developed than the eastern side but there are few beaches. The western shore — the Irkusk side — is dominated by rocky cliffs and rocky shores. The town of Listvyanka and Olkhon Island see a fair amount of visitors and are the main tourists centers of the lake.
Ferries and hydrofoils run between Irkutsk and a number of stop on the western shore of Lake Baikal. The service is unreliable. You can travel around Lake Baikal on hydrofoils that stop in Irkutsk,Olkhon, Severobaikalsk and Nizhneangarsk. Other Baikal services are limited to short hops: 1) between Irkutsk and and 2) from Sakhyurta to Olkhon. According to Lonely Planet: “Beware that boat schedules can change radically from year to year and are only published infuriatingly near to the first sailing of each season.” You can also charter a boat, which is most conveniently done in Listvyanka, Nizhneangarsk or Severobaikalsk.
Boats go several times a day on the Angara River between Irkutsk and Listvyanka on the western shore of Lake Baikal. From June to late September hydrofoils make the 10-hour trip between Irkutsk and the towns Severobaikalsk and Nizhneangarsk on the lake's north shore. This has been described as a pleasant trip like traveling on a Norwegian fjord. This hydrofoil used to go — and maybe still does — every other day.
Cliffs of Sagan-Zaba (20 kilometers south of Olkhon Island, five kilometers northeast from Cape Krestovsky) is one of the most beautiful places of Baikal western shore. Considered to be a part of Pribaikalsky national park, it features whitish grey cliffs that drop directly into the clear Lake Baikal water. There are petroglyphs made in different time periods, some dating back to the Bronze and late Iron Ages (2000 B.C. — 1000 AD). The petroglyphs, expert A. P. Okladnikov wrote: “The petroglyphs in Sagan-Zaba day with all their grandeur of the past, but even now impressive with the scale of their multifigured composition of anthropomorphic images present the unique phenomenon among all the other rock carving of Siberia. The rock art of Sagan-Zaba is the real pearl of the ancient culture and art of Siberian peoples. You won’t find any other such monument of this epoch in the area between the Urals to the Pacific”
Muhorskiy Bay is one of the largest and warmest bays of Lake Baikal. It is 7.5 kilometers long, up to 3 kilometers wide and shallow. Its average depth is 4.5 meters, so the water is relatively well heated, especially in the late summer, making it possible, maybe, for a non-Russian to go swimming here. The Name of the bay come from Buryat word “muharam, meaning - "dead end", "end", "edge".
The Shores of the bay are very picturesque: cozy coves are replaced by low hills covered with larches and multi-colored lichen. The sandy beaches of the gulf have nice places to relax. In Muhorskom Bay has many tourist facilities and is a popular place to camp. In the summer almost the entire coastal zone of the gulf covered with tents. Firewood is not readily available so you need to need to bring a gas burner or a kerosene stove. The peak tourist season is July and August.
Accommodation: The Bayar Guest house is a cozy place The owners grow their own vegetables and herbs in greenhouses, treating visitors to home-made food, including pickles, jams and fish. Prices at Bayar start from RUB 4,800 per person per night. The Uyuga Guest house offers accommodation starting from RUB 2,323 per standard double room per night.
Listvyanka (at the mouth of the Angara River on Lake Baikal, 43 kilometers, 40–50 minutes from Irkutsk) is a picturesque village and the main tourist center on Lake Baikal. From the hilltop hotels visitors are treated views of the blue lake with granite peaks and spruce forests in the background. During the winter one of the most interesting spots is northern shore where the free flowing Angara River empties out of the frozen lake. At the mouth of the river is rock island called Shaman Rock. There are several local and Buryat legend as to how it was created.
Listvyanka is accessible by bus or ferry from Irkutsk. The economy is oriented towards tourism and ship repair. According to Lonely Planet: “As the closest lakeside village to Irkutsk, Listvyanka – aka the ‘Baikal Riviera’ – is the touristy spot where most travellers go to dunk their toes in Baikal’s pure waters. Having picked at omul, admired the hazy views of the Khamar Daban mountains on the opposite shore and huffed their way from one end of the village to the other, most are on a marshrutka back to Irkutsk late afternoon. But there’s more to Listvyanka: stay longer to hike the Great Baikal Trail, discover more about the lake at the Baikal Museum and chill out at one of Siberia’s most eco-friendly sleeps.
Accommodation: The Mayak Hotel is a high-rise overlooking the embankment. Prices from RUB 3,200. The Anastasia Hotel is located at the source of the Angara River in Nikola village, several kilometers away from Listvyanka. The hotel's interior is in marine style. Prices from RUB 5,000. Listvyanka offers a large number of private hotels and guest houses with rooms at about RUB 1,500 (without meals).
Sights in Listvyanka
Sights in Listvyanka include various viewpoints of the lake, the dock area, the small St. Nicholas Church, and the lake ecology museum at the Baikal Limnological Institute. There is a nice hike north of the town to Bolshoy Koty. Diving trips are organized in Listvyanka. Divers see freshwater sponges, fish, caves, and several varieties of fish. In the winter snowmobiling and cross-cross skiing are available.
There are many curious places on the way to Listvyanka as well. The Taltsy Architectural & Ethnographic Museum is located within 47 kilometers from Irkutsk. The wooden houses from the small towns flooded over during the construction of the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Power Station constitute the core of the museum collection. Here you can find out how Russian Old Believers, Buryats and Evenks used to live.
The Baikal Limnological Museum is dedicated to preserving the history and the natural world of the unique lake is yet another popular place on the outskirts of Listvyanka. On top of insightful guided tours, the museum offers virtual expeditions to the very bottom of Baikal — the bathyscaphe simulator is particularly popular with the children.
Baikal Museum was organized in 1993 as an independent structural unit of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science. One of the three lake museums in the world, and the only one in Russia, it contains aquariums with a constant inflow of fresh Baikal water that house fresh-water Baikal sponges, a multitude of fishes, including some of endemic species which are only found in Lake Baikal: sturgeon, whitefish (sig), omul, bullheads, as well as grayling, lenok and other representatives of Siberian fish fauna, and also, of course, for the famous nerpa — the Baikal seal.
You can experience the different depths of Lake Baikal thanks to a virtual submarine, which submerges to the deepest point of the lake. Also, you can visit a plants park, which has 400 species of plants, including endangered plants. Reconstruction of the classical museum exhibition is coming to the completion. Very soon you will be able to observe Baikal seals from Ushkanyi islands on large TV-screens in real time.
Pad Large Incense (on the western shore of Lake Baikal between Listvyanka and Goloustnoe Pad) is a scenic cape with some good hiking areas. The distance is 36 kilometers from both Listvyanka and Goloustnoe Pad, a distance that be completed in two days, or even one of you are fit and get an early start. Incense Pad got its name after the presence of fusible lime burnt incense. You can visit the quarry, where the limestone was mined. In the outcrops of Precambrian limestone rocks are the remains of organisms hundreds of millions years old. Some areas are protected zone and require prior approval of the Baikal park administration to visit. In the area is a pier with boats and a guest house.
Bolshoy Koty (16 kilometers miles north of Listvyanka) is a small village with a small museum and aquarium. It was built around a 19th century gold mine field and is now a center of biological research. There are some pleasant hikes and good views of the lake in the area.
Peschanaya Bay (16 kilometers north of Listvyanka) is a west coast resort area made up of magnificent rock formation and forests. Accommodation is available in cabins and large dormitories. Cedar trees here on beaches that have been twisted by winds and roots blown clear of soil so they resemble stilts.
Kurbulik is a waterfront village with timber houses only a few dozen meters from the shore and motorboats on the sandy beaches.
Bolshoy Goloustnoe (120 kilometers from Irkutsk on the western shore of Lake Baikal) is a small village with some pleasant hikes and good views of the lake in the area. There are no hotels but homestays can be arranged with some travel agencies in Irkutsk. . A river flows through the village. Mountains surround it. Along the shore of the lake is a small onion-domed church. Hiking destinations include Ushkani cape and a “dry” lake. The road form Irkutsk to Bolshoy Goloustnoe is paved about half the way.
I stayed for two days here in a homestay. I spent one day hiking to the south of the town and another day hiking to the north. To the south there were a lot of partying and picnicking Russians. To the north the landscape was more isolated and rugged. Along most of the lake there were walking paths but periodically there were cliff faces and the easiest way to get around them was to hike in waist-deep water in the lake.
Lake Baikal is quite chilly even in the middle of the summer and people say that swimming in it is supposed to bring long life and good health. Once, when I wading in the water to get around a cliff, I quickly submerged myself and leapt out, hoping that qualified enough increase my life span. The water was so cold it was painful. Later in the day I watched Russians swim in the lake as if they were in seas off Barbados.
In the area where I took my quick dip I’m pretty sure I saw some nerpas. They were too far in the distance to tell for sure. But I don’t think they were birds because they didn’t fly away. I don’t think they were the plastic bottles the fishermen on the lake use because they occasionally disappeared, with what looked like a tail popping up behind them, and reappeared a short distance away.
Bolshoy Goloustnoe was founded in the 17th century. Its history is linked to the water trade route between Russia and China. Ships that came down the Selenga River and traveled across Lake Baikal docked here. The main attractions are Goloustnaya Valley, the pristine beauty of the Lake Baikal coast, and St. Nicholas Church, where you can see the miraculous icon of St. Nicholas of Myra. Also in the vicinity of the village are ancient Neolithic caves. The dry lake occasionally fills with water, about once every four years.
Olkhon Island (300 kilometers north of Irkutsk, about halfway up the west coast of Lake Baikal) is the largest of Lake Baikal's 27 main islands. A popular destinations for Russian tourist, it is 72 kilometers miles long and 12 kilometers wide at its widest point. The water around the island is relatively warm and one few the places where many people attempt to swim in the lake. Unfortunately the place where most people swim is dirty and has too much concrete. There are plenty of more appealing places with sandy beaches to swim as well as open steppe, light pine forests with relict pines and mountains.
Olkon is the driest and only permanently inhabited island. island on Lake Baikal. Part of Pribaikalsky National Park, it covers 730 square kilometers and embraces three different ecological zones: steppe in the southern part of the island, desert in the middle and taiga forest in the north. It is accessible via special taxi or bus from Irkutsk. The roads leave much to be desired, making for a half-day journey that is completed, in the summer, only after a ferry ride to the island's largest village, Khuzhir. In the winter, one can drive to the island over the ice..
About 1,500 people live in Olkhon’s three villages. Electricity only reached these villages in 2005. The island is separated from the mainland by the Olkhon Gate Strait, which is crossed by regular ferries in the summer. The weather on Olkhon is usually sunny but windy when the weather is good. Boating, hiking and bicycling are all popular activities.
A place of power, Olkhon is considered to be a sacred center for shamans of the north. According to Buryatian folk tales, Olkhon Island is a wild and mystical place, and an active center of shamanism. It is called the Heart of Lake Baikal as even its shape is reminiscent of the outline of the lake. The deepest spot of Lake Baikal (1,637 meters) is near the northwestern bank of the Olkhon. Locals believe that the grave of Genghis Khan is located in the cave of the Burkhan marble cliff.
Tourism on Olkhon Island
Khuzhir is Olkhon island's main village and tourist center. It has a museum, playgrounds for children, a library with materials in English and German and even a small petting zoo. A kilometer-long walk takes you into the untouched wilderness. Olkhon offers visitors a diverse landscape: steep mountains populate its eastern shore; in other places are forests, steppes and even a small desert. The water in the lake is cool even in the summer, rarely warming up above 18°C. Most people get to the island by bus and ferry; some arrive by boat.
The main activities are trekking, biking, camping, kayaking and fishing. Describing part of his boat trip, Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times: “ Returning along the shore to Olkhon, we passed Cape Ryty, a bizarre effluvium, carved by winding rivers and dotted by ancient shaman ruins, which outsiders are forbidden to enter. As we passed, the crew performed a ritual of dipping their fingers into a glass of vodka three times, representing the land, the water and the air, and making a wish. As we reached the Little Sea, the part of the lake separating Olkhon from the western shore, signs of civilization returned: small settlements, tourist camps, even garbage, which pollutes the populated parts of Baikal. [Source: Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, July 8, 2007]
“We moored at Ogoi Island, a small rock really, with a newly built Buddhist Temple, which proved to be controversial because of its size and its prominence. Visitors tie ribbons to trees and leave offerings, including money and cigarettes, which means a profane littering of the otherwise beautiful spot. This might be Baikal’s future as tourism expands, fueled by Russia’s post-Soviet plunge into capitalism. Electrical lines linked Olkhon to the mainland in 2005-a development no doubt welcomed by the island’s 1,500 residents, but a blight on the island’s rugged landscape nevertheless.”
Accommodation: Accommodation is mainly in the form of guest houses, hostels and homestays. Nikita Bencharov's homestead is a cult place among travelers from all over the world. The manor house has been hosting visitors since the times when Olkhon had no centralized power supply. Today, this comfortable guest house welcomes people from all across the globe, so you might want to check for availability beforehand. Prices start from RUB 4,500 per person per night. There are less costly options on the island as well. Depending on the season, you will find standard rooms at RUB 800–1,000 per night.
According to Russia Beyond: “Given the stereotypical picture of Russian lifestyle, where visitors are welcomed with limitless vodka, Bencharov presents a different approach: binge drinking is neither welcomed nor supported. Instead, he offers visitors delicious Siberian cuisine, abundant in both portions and variety. Visitors familiar with Moscow are amazed at local prices: for 750 rubles (about US$30) one is presented with a traditional Siberian cabin and three buffet-style meals served throughout the day. If you chose to go on one of Nikita's numerous tours on the island, the innkeepers will pack a generous lunch for you.Increased tourism has put a strain on local resources, especially accommodations. So far, Bencharov has been able to skirt the problem by referring "excess" visitors to neighbors. However, nobody is sure if tourists will one day overwhelm the island and make such hospitality a relic of history.”
Sights in Olkhon Island
The main destination is include Shaman Cape, where, according to legend, the god of the lake, Burhan lives. Shaman’s, or Burkhan’s, Rock, a twin-peaked outcropping — near the village of Khuzhir — that is considered one of the holiest places in Asia (See Below). Around Sandy Bay there are some sand dunes that merge with a pine forest. The vast grasslands on the island are used to herd sheep. The northern part of the island is reportedly a good place to go seal watching.
Khuzhir is the only sizable town. Revyakin Ethnographic Museum in Khuzhir is best described as a museum of the everyday life. Of the Olkhon people. The historian, archeologist and explorer of Siberia A.P. Okladnikov, who visited Olkhon island and history museum several times wrote: “The ethnographic museum in Khuzhir is the genuine pride and embellishment of the region. The amazing collections devoted to the archeology of Olkhon rejoice with rare finds, which could be the pride of any museum not only in Irkutsk, but even in the capital. The local lore collection here are similarly remarkable as the real treasures of Siberian culture”.
Maloe More Strait (or “Narin-Dalay” in the Buryat language, i.e. narrow sea) separates Olkhon Island from the western shore of Baikal. The shore and gulfs attract visitors with their white sand beaches and warm waters. In the summer the water here warms up to 22°C. The Mukhor Gulf is the most famous of the Baikal gulfs.Apart from beach enthusiasts, the place is frequented by fishermen, attracted by the abundance of omul, grayling and spike.
Cape Khoboy occupies the northernmost point. The blue mountains surround the cape on three sides. The island is rich in archaeological monuments, historical legends, and ancient myths, including the remains of Kurylkans, a mysterious group of Iron Age cattle herder that t lived on the island up until a 1,000 years ago.. The most holy mythical places are considered Khoboy Cape, Deva Cliff (with a petrified wife of Buryatian shaman), the white marble cliffs of Sagan-Khushun, and the Zhima Mountain with a relict spruce forest.
Cape Khoboy is near the widest place of Baikal, which is 79.5 kilometers. In good weather from the Cape you can see the mountains of the Holy Nose Peninsula on the eastern shore. In the Buryat language "Khoboy" means "fang" because the cape ends abruptly with rocks that resemble fangs into the water. The main rock promontory is called Virgo, since it resembles the outline of a woman's body.
Shaman’s Rock (Cape Burkhan)
Shaman’s Rock (near the village of Khuzhir on Olkhon Island) is a bimodal rock outcrop that is considered one of the holiest places in Asia. Local Buryats worship it. Tourists are advised to respect local beliefs and refrain from taking photographs of shaman or damaging their holy artifacts (usually special markings on trees and holy sacrifices of clothing or coins.
Shaman’s Rock is also known as Burkhan Rock or Shamanka Rock and the place it is found is called Cape Burkhan or Cape Shaman. The cape is located within the Baikal National Park, and has been designated a natural and historical state monument. The cape consists of crystalline limestone with quartz veins, and the adjacent shore — granite rock. The rock is covered with bright red lichen. Near the coast the rock is 30 meters high, its furthest part is 42 meters high.
Closer to the shore is Shaman Cave within the rock. The cave is about 12 meters long, from 3 to 4.5 meters wide, and from 1 to 6.5 meters high. The cave can be accessed from two sides — the northeast and the west. There are side corridors and a narrow vent in the cave. There are many legends about the cave, including legends that Genghis Khan and Mongol ruler Gegen-Burkhan stayed there.
The name of the cape “Burkhan” appeared at the end of the 17th century after Tibetan Buddhism began spreading in the Baikal region. The Buryat Buddhists used the word “Burkhan” to indicate the chief deity of the lake. In ancient times, the cape was a place for religious sacrifices to the spirit master of Olkhon Island, Ugute Noyon, who was believed to live in the cave at the cape and was the most formidable and revered deity of the lake. Near the cape, in a sacred grove, shamans were burned and buried. There was also a Buddhist chapel on Shaman Rock. Passing travelers would always dismount from their horses and tread quietly so not awake the sleeping spirits or distract the shamans. Cape Shaman was the place where Olkhon Buryats swore an oath to remove a false accusation, defend their honor, or solemnly promised to perform a duty. Childless Buryats came here from different regions, asking for the gift of children. Women and children were forbidden to approach the cape.
A number of archaeological finds have been made at the cape and nearby. Neolithic artifacts dated to the 5th-3rd millennium B.C., have been found in Shaman Cave. Some of the finds are kept at the Khuzhir Museum. Another ancient man site was was found on the isthmus, connecting Cape Shaman with the island. More than a dozen graves, belonging to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, were found there.
From the cliffs on top of Shaman Cape it is possible to see the Ushkany Islands 60 kilometers away. The promontory on which the cliffs are located is considered a sacred to the local Buryats. Burkhan and Shamanka Rock are both shrouded in ancient legends. Legend has it that Khan Khoto Babai, a formidable deity whom nobody should dare to disturb, had his palace hidden inside the rock. Even today, travelers tie colorful ribbons to the branches of the trees as a sign of respect to the master of the island. Buryat shaman are also laid to rest here. Their naked bodies are tied to a platform of trees and burned. The bleached bones and skulls of some of these
Pribaikalsky National Park
Pribaikalsky National Park (central and southern part of the western shore of Lake Baikal) includes much of coastal strip and mountain ridges to the west of Lake Baikal as well as offshore islands such as Olkhon Island to the east. Beginning about 50 kilometers southeast of Irkutsk, it is one of the parks in the Lake Baikal UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angara River, which flows out of Lake Baikal, runs through the park.
The mountains of Pribaikalsky (also spelled Pribaykalski) National Park reaching heights of 1,100 meters in the south and 1,500 meters in the north. These mountains block precipitation to some degree so the coast strip between them and Lake Baikal is a little drier than other places around the lake. The slopes of the mountains facing Lake Baikal are forested with steppe pine and larch. The wetter tops of the mountains are Siberian pine-fir, and in the valleys the tree cover is typically spruce, larch, alder, aspen, and birch. Biodiversity and endemism is extremely high: the park and adjacent areas have recorded 1,385 species and subspecies of vascular plants, 339 species of mosses, 676 species and sub-species of lichens and 655 species of fungi. Of these, 557 are endemic to the park.
The biodiversity of animals in the park is also high. Over 2,500 species have been recorded, many of which are endemic. Most of the animals are typical of the Siberian taiga such as Caspian deer, Siberian roe deer, moose, Siberian weasels and ermines. In the steppe sections of the park you can find to steppe polecats, long-tailed sousliks (a type of ground squirrel), meadow larks, and black kites. In hard-to-reach rocks and on the islands, there are rock doves and Siberian swifts. The largest mammal in the lake itself is the Baikal seal.
Established in 1986 and covering 4,173 square kilometers (1,611 square miles), Pribaikalsky receives the majority of tourists to Lake Baikal (about 400,000 annually). The popular tourist destinations of Listvyanka and Olkhon Island are in the park. The park is open year-round. Four settlements in the park have hotels and facilities. The 'Great Baikal Trail' runs along the west coast of the lake through Pribaikalsky; during the winter, the trail loop is open for skates, skis, and snowmobiles for tourists to view the ice formations.
Baikal-Lena Nature Reserve
Baikal-Lena Nature Reserve (inland from northwest shore of Lake Baikal) is a good place to spot brown bears, red deer and red-breasted merganser ducks. As is true with the other reserves access is restricted. Included in the Lake Baikal UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reserve stretches along the northwest part of Lake Baikal for about 120 kilometers, with an average width of 65 kilometers.
Baikal-Lena Nature Reserve (also spelled Baikalo-Lensky, Baikal-Lensky or Baykal-Lena Zapovednik) protects both lake shore and the source of the Lena River. Baikal-Lena Reserve is managed jointly with Pribaikalsky National Park, which is immediately to the south, thus protecting a continuous 580 km of shoreline on Lake Baikal.
Established in 1986 and covering 6,600 square kilometers (2,548 square miles), Baikal-Lena Reserve has three sectors: the coast ("The shore of brown bears"), the Upper Lena River, and the Kirengsky sector. Because of its position on the lake shore with a mountain ridge to the west to screen the prevailing winds, Baikal-Lena is the driest reserve on the lake. The Lena River originates in the reserve, running for 250 kilometers within the borders. Rivers on the east slope of the Baikal Mountains are short and shallow, and at times their flow is insufficient to reach the lake and the water drains into the ground.
About 86 percent of the reserve covered by taiga forests composed primarily of six species of conifers, including Siberian larch, pine, Siberian pine, Siberian fir, spruce and five species of hardwood, including white birch, willow, aspen, and poplar. There are swamps and marshes on the lowland river floodplains. Among the 58 species of mammals in the reserve are bears, sable, ermine, weasel, otter and wolverine.
As a strict nature reserve, the Baikal-Lena Reserve is mostly closed to the general public. There are three 'ecotourist' routes in the reserve but written permits must be obtained in advance at the reserves main offices in Irkutsk. The boundaries of the reserve do not extend over the waters of the lake, so it is possible to undertake water tours along the coast. The reserve also permits group rafting trips on the Lena River upon written application and approval. Website: www.baikal-1.ru
Severobailask (on the north shore of Lake Baikal and reach by the BAM Railway) is a town of 35,000 that was created almost from scratch in the 1970s to accommodate the BAM railway and its workforce. A large percentage if the population still lives in what was supposed to be temporary housing. There isn't much to see other than a local museum, with exhibits on the BAM and stuff from local tribes, and an art gallery but boat, trekking, kayak and bicycle trips in the Lake Baikal region can be organized here.
Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times: Severobaikalsk is “a town on the northern tip, the lake is almost entirely unpopulated. Among the exceptions is our boat’s owner, Aleksandr. He lives in a seasonal settlement at Cape Zavorotny, once a Soviet quartzite mining settlement built beside a lagoon. We climbed into the hills, along the old mining road, with his son, Vladimir, who gathered berries and pine nuts, which we ate sitting beside a swollen river tumbling out of the last packs of snow. [Source: Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, July 8, 2007]
“The village has the broken-down look of a Soviet outpost, complete with the rusting equipment and detritus of government economic folly, but the location was spectacular. Here the mountains rise starkly from the shoreline, creating a serrated line of plush green peaks. A large swath of land north of Olkhon is a preserve, full of bears and other wildlife.
“In June, Leonid said that bears, fresh from hibernation, descend on the shores in search of caddis flies that swarm the rocks. By summer, the bears roam back into the mountains, but even in August we managed to spot some — a mother and three cubs — loping along a mountain side. At Zavorotny, Aleksandr has built a banya, a traditional bath house a few feet from the water. Inside a cabin with a sun porch on one side, there is a small parilka, or steam room, with stones heated by a wood fire, which he had started for us while we hiked. Heated well past sweating, we dashed down a path made of wooden planks and jumped in the lake, which by August had warmed to its highest temperature of the year: 39 degrees Fahrenheit. We stayed for more than two hours, until dusk gave way to night.
Lake Baikal Activities around Severobailask
Severobailask has advantages over the other places in that the pristine wilderness is much closer by and is much less visited by travelers. One the positive side there are lot of wild places that are virtually unvisited, in the negative side there are virtually no tourists facilities. Some of the main draws are out outdoor hot springs.
Trekking destination include the Frokikha mountain lake. You can also go hiking and kayak along Lake Baikal's shore and stay in huts set up by hunters. Kholodnaya (45 kilometers miles north of Severobailask) is an Evenk village with some traditional birch-bark yurts. The people make their living through raising fur-bearing animals rather than reindeer herding. North of Kholodnaya there are some remains of a gulag that was closed in World War II.
Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times: We continued north the next morning to the Icy River, so named because of a climatic oddity that keeps it frozen longer than the lake’s other feeders. Then we reached the landing at Cape Cheremshany. Over the campfire that night on the shore, Leonid said that native tribes used to light fires on the shores to attract tribes from the other side to arrange marriages. I saw what I thought was an answer to ours, but it was the moon, rising like a flaming tusk from behind the faraway mountains of Buryatiya. [Source: Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, July 8, 2007]
“As we turned and headed south, we came across the two extraordinary capes called Big and Little Solontsovy. Each contained a small mountain lake, formed in the subsidence that slid down the mountains, creating a small flatland covered in marsh grass and meadow flowers. We lingered for hours, spotting a pair of herons on the barrier beach. The crew collected wild thyme and black currant leaves for tea. We had returned to a place only a few miles from Zavorotny, but it felt like the most isolated place on earth.”
Baikalskoe (32 kilometers miles south of Severobailask) is delightful fishing village on the shore of lake Baikal. Comprised primarily of small traditional houses with small gardens, it is good place to walk around or convince a fisherman to take u you out in his boat for around US$20 per hour. Some guides promise to take visitors to see bears and seals.
Ethnovillage "Veps estate" is located in the town of Baikalsk in a natural woodland foothills. Veps - the ancient people of the Finno-Ugric group; ethnovillage shows their way of life handed down from generation to generation.
The estate has a large farmstead with animals, where you can see geese, sheep, rabbits, to communicate with horses. Acts Bath, organized horseback riding and cross-country skiing, sledding. Also on the estate there is a smithy, where anyone can present a 35-pound hammer to forge for themselves a souvenir.
Cape Koteknikovsky (65 kilometers south of Severobailask and reached by boat) is an uninhabited place famous for hot springs set among the lake the mountains of Baikalsky Range. The forests and waterfalls around 2,588-meter-high Mt. Chesky are said to be among the most beautiful in Siberia. You will need a guide for any serious hikes or treks. Guides and boats can be arranged Severobailask.
EASTERN SHORE OF LAKE BAIKAL
Eastern Shore of Lake Baikal — the Buryatia side — is much less developed than the western shore. There are few towns or villages and much of the area is virginal wildness protected by national parks and reserves, where people aren’t allowed to go. In many places there are no roads, tracks or trails and the only way to get around is by boat or bushwhacking through the woods.
Ust-Barguzin is the main tourist town on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal. You can charter a boat, in Ust-Barguzin. Travel agencies Irkutsk can also help you make arrangements.. There is (or was) hydrofoil service between Irkutsk and Ust-Barguzin. This regular ferry and shipping services is often disrupted by poor maintenance, weather and other reasons.
Most visitors to Baikal get to the western shore of the lake. But there, on the Irkutsk side, there are practically no beaches, only rocky cliffs. On the eastern Buryatia side there are lots of beaches, both rocky to sandy. Swimming is another story. The water temperature generally do not rise above 12°C. There are plenty of places to camp sites with great scenery and some villages with guest houses.
Ust Barguzin (in the middle of the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, 270 kilometers northeast of Ulan-Ude) is the main town on the easterb side of Lake Baikal. Located at the mouth of the Barguzin River, it is a port city with about 7,200 people and is a center of the timber industry. It is a not a pretty place but is sometimes useful for hiring out boats to explore the lake. There are daily buses to Ulan Ude and ferries to Irkutsk. Ust Barguzin was founded in 1666 by a Cossack detachment under Gavril Lovzov. It has a hospital, cafes, canteens and shops. There are four hotels and approximately 30 guesthouses.
Places on the Northeastern Shore of Lake Baikal
Singing Sands of Turali (northeast Lake Baikal) is the most popular of the most famous of the Baikal "singing" sand beaches. The word "Tur" comes from the Evenk language and means "thundering singing sand". The noisiest sands are in a small cove near Cape Tur, north of the mouth of the Tompuda River. When it is windy or when the lake is wavy, the sand emits creaking, squeaking sound reminiscent of bow being pulled across the violin strings The "singing" sands are connected many legends: one says the sounds are developed by an orgy among the dead.
Ayaya Bay (north of Chivyrkuya in northeast Lake Baikal) is considered one of the most beautiful places on Lake Baikal. Situated on the north side of Holy Nose peninsula, it has golden sandy beaches on all sides and is surrounded by steep banks that block the Baikal winds. It is a place where ships go to escape strong storms. In addition, it is one of the few places on the lake, where you can see seals: twenty meters from the cape in crystal clear water. The bay penetrates about four kilometers inland. The eastern shore is low, with a wide strip of sandy beach. Two streams empty into the bay, one which bears the name Ayaya. From here there is an eight kilometer trail that can be hiked in two hours. From the end of Ayaya there is a nice eight kilometer hike to picturesque glacial lake Frolikha.
Holy Nose Peninsula
Holy Nose Peninsula (north of Ust Barguzin) is a large, mountainous peninsula slightly of the middle of Lake Baikal. The peninsula is 53 kilometers long, up to 20 kilometers wide and covers an area of 596 square kilometers. The highest point of the peninsula is 1878 meters. Buryats call the peninsula Hillman Khushun, which means "sturgeon snout" in the Buryat language. On of the peninsula is a highland plateau with spectacular panoramic view of the isthmus of the Holy Nose, Chivyrkuisky Bay, Barguzin Bay and Ushkany Islands. Hiking to the plateau and back takes a whole day. On the plateau is a zone of alpine tundra, with no water sources. There are several hiking trails on the plateau and elsewhere on the peninsula.
Holy Nose (also called Sacred Nose or Svyatoy Noy) is the only major peninsula in Lake Baikal. Its mountains are forested with birch, larch pine and rhododendron. It has several dozen mountain streams and springs, and is connected to the mainland by the narrow Chivyrkuisky isthmus. Chivyrkuisky bay is to the north. Barguzin Bay is to the south. The peninsula is known for its views of the lake. Because of its central location within the lake there are views of water — and mountains — in all directions. Marokov beach is known for its "singing sand", so called because of the sound made when walking on it.
Mountainous Holy Nose peninsula used to be an island separated from the shore by a narrow strait. About 7000 to 8,000 years ago, it was connected with the mainland after Maly Chivurkuy and Barguzin rivers and Baikal storms filled the strait with silt and sand. A boggy lake was created in the middle of the isthmus by the alluvial activity.
Ushkany islands ( in the middle of Lake Baikal, 60 kilometers north of Ust Barguzin) is a good place to check out nerpas. The largest rookery of these seals is located on the western side of the island side. Ushkany island located seven kilometers the west of the peninsula Holy Nose. The archipelago consists of four islands: Big, Thin, Round and Long. They are elevated above the water and are Academic ridge tops.
When observing the ringed seals, the boat parks on the east side of the island and tourists cross the island on 320 meter-long path. At sunset, after a day of seeking fish, the seals return to the the islands. By one estimate as many as 2,000 seals gather at the rookery. Visitors have to be very quiet. If they talk too loudly or make noises, the seals dive off the rocks into the water.
The Ushkany Islands lie within Trans-Baikal (Zaybaykalsky) National Park. The are the above-water eastern end of the submerged Academician Ridge, which separates Lake Baikal into northern and southern basins. The western shore of the lake sees the Academic ridge rise again above the water in the form of Olkhon Island. The four Ushkany islands have a total area of about 10 square kilometers. The islands are comprised of marble and limestone, and contain caves with evidence of human habitation from the Neolithic age.
A permanent weather station is on the Big Island Ushkany. The straits between the islands of the Lesser Ushkany are very dangerous. In the summer the water in the coves of Chivyrkuy Bay warm to 18-24 degrees because they are shallow, and even warmer in the shallow southern Gulf even higher.
Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times: “The islands, part of a nature preserve, are home to Baikal’s nerpas...Their heads bobbed noiselessly in the water, as we drove to one of the smaller islands, Long Island, where we debarked and hiked a forest trail to a series of blinds that allow you to approach their rocky resting places without too much disturbance. There were scores of them, lying in the sun like bathers on an overcrowded Mediterranean beach. The slightest sound sent them tumbling back in the water. We managed to crawl to a ledge within a dozen feet of the closest one, who watched us warily with his wet eyes, as black as onyx. We learned later that the island had been closed for the season a few days before, part of the efforts to protect the seals from disturbances — either innocuous, like ours, or worse, like poachers’. One of the lake’s few park rangers caught up to our boat and extracted the 2,000-ruble fee for our visit.” [Source: Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, July 8, 2007]
Barguzin range (northeast of Lake Baikal) covers more than a third of the eastern coast of Lake Baikal, stretching from the 300-kilometer-long, 80-kilometer-wide Upper Angara Valley in the north to 30-kilometer-long Chivyrkuisky Bay in the south. The average height of the main ridge is 2400 meters. The highest point is 2841-meter-high Baikal Peak. in the middle part of the main dividing range. The area around Baikal Barguzin is very severe and spectacular, with many pointed peaks and rock towers, needles, pyramids and trapezoids rising from snow and glaciers..
The ridge is marked by relatively recent glaciation in the form of small modern glaciers, moraine and river valleys that have a trough character with crossbars and ledges along their length, with numerous waterfalls and cascades. The highest waterfall, which is 300 meters high, is situated on a tributary of the Tompuda Tykme river. In the upper reaches of the ridge there are many glacial lakes and circes. The sources of the rivers are in the plateau-like parts of the range. The eastern slopes of the range (from the Barguzin River), especially in the central part, rise steeply from the valley with many cliffs and rocky walls. The western spurs decline gently towards the shore of Lake Baikal and are cut by numerous rivers and streams that flow into Lake Baikal. The Barguzin ridge mountains near Chivyrkuisky Bay generally do not exceed 2000 meters in height. In the north of the relief is smoother, but here there are expressive rocky peaks.
Above the taiga belt of vegetation is tundra-like with birch, willow and elfin pine. In the upper reaches of the ridge near the lakes are alpine meadows with abundant thickets of flowers, which are dominated by Siberian frying. The fauna is typical for Siberia, but a rich in avifauna (400 species of birds). There are a lot of bears. In July, they are usually move from the shore of the lake to the mountains, where they often meet travelers.
The highest lake levels are observed during the summer rains, coinciding with a period of intensive snow melting in Goltsova zone. The biggest river ridge located on its western slope and are tributaries of Lake Baikal - it Frolikha river Tompuda, Shegnanda, Boar, Large, Sosnovka Cheremshan. Only the river Bright, collecting runoff from its northern tip, is the exception. river, flowing down from the eastern slopes of the Barguzin range, without exception, fall into the river Barguzin, with a much smaller catchment area, less abounding and often get lost on the way down to the Barguzin valley in their own deposits.
The climate is sharply continental (down to to - 40°C in winter and up to 40°C in summer), in the highlands hot cloudless days are not as common as down by the lake. Partly cloudy, cool and overcast is the norm. Drizzling rain can last for several days. The greatest amount of precipitation occurs in July and August. The weather is often unstable, and can change several times during the day. Snowfall starts in September and ends in June (in the mountains it occurs all year round). The snow in the forest often reaches a height 1.3-1.4 meters. In the mountains and on the coasts it is 0.7-0.9 meters. Avalanche danger is great, Snow piles in the mountains can be stored, as well as numerous glaciers, all summer.
Baikal softens the climate at the ridge bases: Summer on the coast is cooler and winters are much milder than in the mountains. Evaporation from the waters is blown by north-westerly winds towards the ridge, producing rains there, The warming effect of the enormous mass of water of Lake Baikal is manifested in a relatively warm late autumn and the first half of the winter. As a result of the late melting of ice in the waters of lake Baikal spring comes late. Average winter temperatures of the coast -20.8 ° C. The average in the summer is +14.3°C. In the mountains, the temperature are on average 10-15°C lower. The rainfall on the coast of 1.5 to two times higher than in mountains.
Tourism in the Barguzins Range
The Barguzin range sees relatively few tourists because of its inaccessibility and the ruggedness. The least accessible and most interesting from a tourist point of view are the western, mainly taiga, ridge slopes. Getting around in these places is generally only possible in the river valleys, using animal and hunting trails with occasional "improved" trails for tourists, One tourist trail starts at the village of Barguzin and ends in the Bay Chivyrkuy. It is generally a good idea to have a guide.
On the coast, all the trails are located on the Circum-Baikal trail that is under construction. Most of the tourist routes start from the Barguzin valley, and go through the mountains leading to Lake Baikal. Some routes are loops beginning and ending on the coast of the Gulf of Chivyrkuy and going into the upper reaches of the Barguzin range. There is no regular water transportation along the eastern coast of Lake Baikal no, except from Nizhneangarsk and Kurla port. The Frolikha lake area and Khakusy Bay are popular places to relax.
The most convenient access to the Barguzin Ridge trails are from Ulan-Ude, traveling through of Nizhneangarsk and Dagarskuyu. Another option is to come from BAM railway villages on the river Upper Angara. Approaching from the north the distances and road difficulties are greater. Website: Tourist Information Center "The visit of Buryatia» / www.visitburyatia.ru
Barguzin Nature Preserve
Barguzin Nature Preserve (northeast of Lake Baikal and embracing parts of the Barguzin Range) is Russia's oldest nature sanctuary. Covering 2632 square kilometers, It was created in 1916 to save the rare Barguzin sable from extinction and is home to 38 other mammals. including the Baikal seal and flying squirrels. Tourists are not allowed to visit but the World bank allocated US$560,000 to develop an ecotourism master plan.
Barguzin (also spelled Barguzinsky) is also only nature reserve to have received reserve status in tsarist times. In 1986, the Barguzin Reserve was included into the International Network of Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO. It is part of the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site, along with other nature reserves and national parks belonging to the “necklace of reserves”: Barguzin Nature Reserve, Baikal Biosphere Reserve, Baikal-Lena Nature Reserves and the Trans-Baikal National Park.
The reserve is located a considerable distance from where humans can have an impact on it, so the levels of air, water and soil pollution in the reserve are some of the lowest in the country. The reserve is located on the western slopes of the Barguzin Ridge, at an altitude of 2,840 meters above sea level, and includes the northeastern coast of Lake Baikal and a part of the lake itself. The ridge and the Reserve got their names from the Barguzin River.
The reserve protects all natural ecosystems. A total of 41 mammal species, including moose, musk deer, varying hare, brown bear, shrew, and black-capped marmot. The waters of the reserve are inhabited by Baikal omul, whitefish, sturgeon, grayling, salmon, flax, and other species of fish.
The most famous tourist destinations in the reserve include the Shumilikha River Valley, the Karasevoye and Khariusovoe mountain lakes. Cape Monakhovo, the hot springs in Zmeyevaya Bay, the Chivyrkuysky Gulf, and the Davsha settlement. Hikers climb Holy Nose Peninsula and and the Barguzin Ridge.
Tourists are allowed to enter the reserve, The construction of buildings close to the water is forbidden. Entrance ticket to the reserve is about 300 rubles. A boat trip on the Chivyrkuy Bay is from 5,000 to 8,000 rubles per person.
Trans-Baikal National Park
Trans-Baikal National Park (north of Ust Barguzin, south of Barguzin Nature Preserve) is wildness area with virgin forests and islands where seals are often spotted. Access to the park is controlled but easier to get into than the nature reserves. Also known as Zaybaybalsky National Park and founded in 1986, this park occupies the middle section of the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, the west slope of the Barguzin mountains, the Ushkany Islands, and Svyatoy Nos ("Holy Nose"), the only large peninsula on the lake . The park covers 2,690 square kilometers (1,040 square miles). Of this 38.8 square kilometers are protected water areas of Lake Baikal itself. The highest point is 2,376-meter-high Mt. Barmashovoe.
The topography of the park is very rugged and there are lot of steep slopes. Because of the sharp grades from the lake shore to mountain tops, the forests of Trans-Baikal display strong altitude zone in the tree cover. The forests are mostly conifers of the Eastern Siberian taiga type: 34% of the forests are pine; 30 percent are Siberian dwarf pine; 14 percent are Siberian pine; and 9 percent are larch. There are approximately 100 square kilometers of old growth forests.
Animals found in park are typical of the southern Siberian forest: bear, wolf, fox, lynx, sable, otter, wolverine, moose, musk deer, squirrel, chipmunk, muskrat and hare. In the alpine meadows the black-capped marmot is found. A total 249 species of birds have been recorded in the park. During the summer, up to 3,000 Baikal seals at a time congregate on the rocks of the Ushinsky islands. Bolshoy Ushinsky island is known for the greatest concentration of large anthills in Russia - thousands that rise up to 1.5 meters in height.
Visitors are generally welcome and able to go where they want. Some places — such as the Ushinsky Islands — require special permits and strict controls. These are generally obtained by the operators of the boats that take tourists to the islands. A day pass for hiking and general recreation can be purchased at the entrance. In the winter, ice fishing and cross-country skiing can be enjoyed. There are cabins for guests and park has floating ecotourist hostel.
Chivyrkuy Bay (next to Holy Nose Peninsular on the central eastern shore of Lake Baikal) is regarded as the warmest bay of Baikal and has relatively gently sloping shores almost completely covered with thick forests. High mountains lie in the middle the Holy Nose (Svyatoy Nos, Sacred Nose) Peninsular to the west. Rugged mountain peaks without vegetation on the southern end of the Barguzin Ridge lie to the east. Lagoons run deep inland.
Chivyrkuy Bay is not deep, and the southern end of the bay is the shallowest and thus the warmest for swimming. Here the Chivyrkuy Isthmus separates Chivyrkuy Bay from Barguzin Bay. In summer, fine algae fill in the southern part of bay when the water is warm and calm. The bay is generally protected from the strong storms that sometimes strike open Lake Baikal.
Chivyrkuy Bay covers 270 square kilometers and is 26 kilometers long and 6-12 kilometers wide. It is the second largest bay in Lake Baikal after Barguzin Bay. The High eastern and western shores composed of ancient granites with numerous picturesque lagoons and capes with wild sandy beaches surrounded by woody slopes.
Chivyrkuy Bay is far away from roads and can only be reached by boat or helicopter. There are hot springs in the area and good pike fishing. For the most part there are no building. Visitors to Chivyrkuya sleep in tents or yurts or on board cruise boats. Not so long ago brown bear were regular visitors to the bay’s shores. These days, the bears are rarely seen. There are some sandy beaches. Because of the large number of sunny days and the shallowness of the bay, the water warms up in late July and August to 18-24 degrees C, and maybe even a little warmer of the shallow southern gulf.
Zmeinaya Bay (in Chivyrkuy Bay) is renowned for its healing hot springs. The water heats up to 45°C and is said to be a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, radiculitis, sciatica and chondrosis. Springs gush out both on land and under water. Near the main spring, there are two wooden “bathtubs”, where you can swim. Next to them, there are four mud springs, almost right on the beach. The temperature of the water ranges from 28 to 34°C. The water smells and tastes of hydrogen sulfide. During the summer, sometimes many tourists come to the spring. The land around the source does not freeze in the winter and the snow melts on the warm soil.
Barguzin Bay(south of Holy Nosy Peninsula in Lake Baikal) is a beautiful bay partly in Trans-Baikal National Park. The largest bay in Lake in Lake Baikal and roughly diamond shaped, it covers about 700 square kilometers and is about 38 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide between the southern tip of the Holy Nose Svyatoy Nos peninsula (Cape Nizhne Izgolovje) and the Cape Cross. The Chivyrkuisky Isthmus lies on the northeast side, separating Barguzin Bay from Chivyrkuisky Bay, which lies to the northeast. The water at the opening of Barguzin Bay is about a kilometer deep and gradually decreases to one meter at the mouth of the Barguzin River, which flows into the the middle of the east side of the bay.
The Landscape of the Barguzin Bay coast is diverse. The northern shore of the bay from the side of the Svyatoy Nos is steep and high. The eastern shore is low, with many pebble and sandy beaches and marshy plains with shallow lakes, shallow shrubs and marsh-meadow grasses. As you head south from Barguzin River the landscape becomes more sandy, with gentle hills, dunes and sporadic groups of pine trees. The southern coast becomes mountainous from Cape Holodianka. The Shantalik ridge near this shore forms high rocky capes: Cape Holodianka, Cape Black, Cape Green and Bilyutinsky Cape. The width of the ridge reaches four kilometers.
There are two towns on the the bay: Maksimikha at the southernmost end and Ust-Barguzin at the easternmost end, just south of the mouth of the Barguzin River. There are holiday resorts on Krutaya Bay, one kilometer southeast of Cape Buchenkova, and about one kilometer northeast of Cape Dukhovy. There are a few scattered cottages along the shore elsewhere, including some on Cape Krestovy at the south end of the entrance. There's no road for vehicles along the lake between Ust-Barguzin and Maximikha, only a hiking trail and traces of the old Barguzin tract. Maximikha is the largest southern bay of the Barguzin Bay. The water in the bay is warmer than in many bays of Lake Baikal, and the beaches there are beautiful. You can organize trips to the lakes Dukhovoye and Shantalik from Maximikha.
Places on the Southeastern Shore of Lake Baikal
Goryachinsk (70 kilometers south of Ust Barguzin) is the most famous hot springs resort on Lake Baikal where the water are most often taken in a bathtub. There are several hot spring facilities. Many are connected with hotels or guest houses. The town has about 1,000 people. About the Goryachiy Klyuch Inn, one person posted on Trip Advisor in 2018: “Excellent small hotel to stay. Very neat, well maintained and family oriented. Kids love the playground, rabbits and chicken. The rooms are spacious and have all the necessary amenities. Very decent restaurant. Wonderful service by waiters and receptionist! Small gym with kids trampoline is located on the basement floor. The hotel also possesses a big swimming pool with sauna and steaming room. Great location - 15 minutes by foot from an amazing beach.”
Lemasovo Resort (towards the southern end of Lake Baikal, 100 kilometers west of Ulan Ude) is one of the main recreational areas on the southeastern shore of Lake Baikal. It is located on the Gulf of Lemasovo Cherkalov, a shallow bay, lees than a meter in many places, with a sandy coast, overgrown with birch trees and shrubs. There are many work camp sites. The area is popular with windsurfers.
Baikal Nature Reserve (southeast shore of Lake Baikal) was established in 1969 to preserving the ecosystems along the lake and the neighboring central part of the Khamar-Daban mountains range. Also called Baikal Zapovednik, it covers 1,657 square kilometers of steppes, mountains and forests of dark pine taiga of silver fir, cedar and spruce. thin forests with Siberian Dwarf Pine and rhododendron underbrush, subalpine meadows, and alpine tundras.
The Baikal Nature Reserve is home to 812 kinds of plants, 49 types of mammals, 272 birds, 3 reptiles, 3 amphibians, and 7 types of fish. Among the larger animals are East Siberian brown bear, Baikal lynx, wolverine, otter, sable, roe deer, red deer, osprey, and golden eagle. The Baikal Nature Reserve is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and is also a part of the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site.
The Selenga River (emptying into central eastern Lake Baikal) is a major river in Mongolia and Buryatia, Russia. It is about 1,000 kilometers long and accounts for almost half of the riverine water that flows into Lake Baikal. The rivers forms a wide delta covering 680 square kilometers (260 square miles), when it reaches the lake. Its source rivers are the Ider River and the Delgermörön river in Mongolia. The size os the river’s basin is 447,000 square kilometers.
The Selenga River is the longest river in Central Asia and collects water from many rivers. The wide, picturesque Selenga valley is connected with the history of many peoples of Asia. It is mentioned in ancient Chinese chronicles and medieval Muslim travelers and scholars. The Selenga connected the Mongol tribes and served as a corridor for some of their conquests. Some tiled graves along are 3,000 years old. Some are surrounded by stone fences of various shapes and sizes, including squares, circles and intricate loops. There are also Hun-era monuments and mounds belonging to Xiongnu tribes,
Much of the Selenga Valley is covered by steppes. Cities grew out of Cossack forts and trading settlements inhabited by Buryat ulus and zaimok Russian peasants.. There are suburgans Buddhist temples, Orthodox churches and worship crosses. The first Russian settlement in the Selenga Valley was Selenga fort founded by Cossacks in 1665. Pad Zharchiha in the north-west features picturesque rocky outcrops ans is sometimes called the "Selenga Dauria." On his journey to Sakhalin, Chekhov called "the Selenga Dauria" the most beautiful place in Russia.
Ian Frazier wrote in The New Yorker: “Of the four hundred and thirty-seven rivers that are said to flow into Baikal (only one, the Angara, flows out), the Selenga is the principal stream coming from the south. Its origins are in the steppes of Mongolia. Genghis Khan made his capital, Karakorum, near a Selenga tributary called the Orkhon. The Selenga was the most authentic-looking Siberian river I’d encountered so far. Up to now I’d seen swampy rivers and ones bordered by mountains and trees; the bare hills along the banks of the Selenga and the wide-screen vistas of river and open country spoke of Asian steppes expanding to the southeast. Again, the fencelessness of the land amazed me. At a place where wheel tracks led through the sparse brown grasses beside the highway we drove down a hillside and stopped beside the Selenga to make that evening’s camp. [Source: Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, August 10 and 17, 2009, Frazier is author of “Travels in Siberia” (2010) ]
Selenga River Delta covers 680 square kilometers and stretches from Big Dry River to the river basin the Boyar, reaching the slopes and ridges of of Khamar-Daban. A significant part of the delta heavily waterlogged, with many small lakes. The Delta has more than 30 large and small flow as well as numerous islands, peninsulas, streams, and creeks. It is a very complicated maze and difficult to navigate. Kabanskyy Reserve is located in the middle part of the Selenga River delta and was set up in 1974. Many migrating birds stop here.
Selenga River Ferry Crossing
Ian Frazier wrote in The New Yorker: “The fact that the wheel tracks ended at the edge of the river should have tipped us off that this was a ferry crossing. We didn’t notice that until the tents had been pitched; then, from the other side of the Selenga, arose the sharp rat-a-tat of an unmuffled engine whose sky-filling volume seemed out of proportion to the little craft that was its cause. In another few minutes, the sound came nearer, as a short, stubby power launch angled across the current with a small fenced raft in tow. On the raft sat a truck of the kind that carries troops, its box back enclosed by an awning. The launch approached the shore and then executed a neat, sharp turn that swung the towrope and the ferry raft at its end into an unfurling arc that ended with the front of the raft wedged against the shore. Someone undid the raft’s gate and the truck drove off onto the bank, and a dozen or so passengers jumped from the raft into the back of the truck. It revved its engine smokily for a few minutes and then motored away. [Source: Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, August 10 and 17, 2009, Frazier is author of “Travels in Siberia” (2010) ]
“Meanwhile, a few cars had arrived to go aboard for the return trip. I pointed out to Sergei that this traffic was likely to continue into the night, so maybe moving camp would be a good idea. A chronic fear I have of being run over while asleep in my tent had begun to flare up. Sergei replied that we had nothing at all to worry about, and, not wanting to be difficult, I went along. In fact the traffic did keep coming and going until late, and began again just at dawn, but its orderly rhythms didn’t trouble me. I even found them comforting, somehow.
“While Volodya was fixing supper, I went a distance down the bank and sat on a camp chair and admired the view. To the north, or downstream, the river spread so far from bank to bank that it seemed more like a landlocked sea. Facing that way, I did a sketch of the river and of the ferry launch arriving. In the other direction, upstream, a rock cliff came down to the water and cut off the vista that was beyond. I hiked a bit to get a look around the cliff and discovered only more cliffs and hills, and a narrowed river slipping out of sight among them.”
Trans-Siberian Railway South of Lake Baikal
The Trans-Siberian Railway section between kilometers 5300 and 5500 is regarded as the most scenic section of the railway. It passes along the shore of Like Baikal and passes through tunnels blasted through cliffs along the lake's shore. There are tunnels almost every kilometer. This was the most difficult section of the railway to build and was one of the last finished. Before it was complete passengers got off the train on either side of the lake and were ferried across by boat.
Port Baikal is where steamships carried passengers across Lake Baikal before the Trans-Siberian section around the lake was completed. The 84-kilometers section of the Trans-Siberian Railway between Port Baikal and the village of Kultuk was one of the most difficult sections to build, with more than 50 tunnels.
Slyudyanka (kilometer 5312 on the Trans-Siberian Railroad) is a mining time town on Lake Baikal. The train stops of 15 minutes, which gives passengers enough time to run down to he lake and take a super quick dip.
Khamar-Daban (south and southeast of Lake Baikal) is a mountain range that stretches from east to west over 350 kilometers and is 50 to 60 kilometers, stretching along the southern shore of Lake Baikal from the Selenga midlands along the Tunka valley to the Munch-Sardyk ridge. The northern part of the range adjacent to Lake Baikal receives a fair amount of rain and is in rich vegetation, with some relict plants from the Tertiary period. The southern side is drier and is dominated by tundra vegetation.
The highest point in the Khamar-Daban is 2396-meter-high Utulikskaya Horseshoe (or Subutuy). Cherskogo peak (2090 meters) is visited by thousands of tourists. There are many lakes in the Khamar-Daban. One of the largest and most popular is Sable Lake. Among the smaller lakes visited by tourist are Stalemate Lake, Heart Lake and Devil's Lake..
There are a wide variety of hiking and skiing trails. The most popular runs from the city of Slyudyanka to the weather station, where there are a variety of options: Cherskiy Peak, Heart Lake, waterfalls, and Devil's Lake. Dress appropriately and be prepared for changing weather conditions. Destinations in the foothills of the Khamar-Daban include Warm Lake, "Cap of Monomakh" relict poplars, Stone River Snow Valley, Taltzy Peak, Sobolinoye Lake, Fairy Tale Waterfall and waterfalls on the Gramotuha River.
Peak Rapids is a popular mountain in the Khamar Daban. Located in the upper reaches of Babhi River, it is 2025 meters high and is clearly seen from the Utulik station area of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The top of the peak has a regular trapezoid with a horizontal ridge. The peak crest breaks in all directions with steep and rocky ledges. Among the popular tourist routes are ascent along streams. The first option is in Babhi valley. This route is relatively straight forward. More extreme path runs along the small Harlahty River and continue along the Harlahtinskogo char ridge. Along these routes there are many small but picturesque waterfalls. From the top of the Peak Rapids is clearly visible in the northern direction is the Babha river valley and the town of Baikalsk; to the ast is Osinovsky Golec; to the south is Dead Lake.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020