THE BAIKAL CIRCLE
FROM IRKUTSK TO IRKUTSK
2013.07.02 - 2013.07.24
to feel the Greatness of Baikal
the route prepared by Edvinas Kudrevičius
I offer to visit Baikal this upcoming summer. It is still full of undiscovered secrets. Russian legend tells that when God was flying above the Siberia, his hands became frozen and he dropped all the treasures. The most precious of those treasures was Baikal.
Baikal is the lake located in Eastern Siberia. It is the largest body of fresh water, which includes 1/5 of the Earth's fresh water (23 kmł) supplies. Baikal is also the deepest. Its depth reaches over 1, 5 km (1637 m.) Although Baikal does not have the largest area, it has the size of Belgium (around 31.500 km˛.) Its length - 636 km, width - up to 80 km. The Locals say that the old father Baikal becomes angry, whenever it is called "the lake." Its anger appears as sarma, kultus or barguzine - hurricane winds that rough up the waves up to the 4-6 m in height. In 1996 Baikal was included into UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Chinese used to call the lake Tengis in their ancient chronicles. In Turkish (as well as in Yakut "bai kel") Baikal means "Rich Lake." There is an opinion that its name originated from Mongol (bai gaal) which means "Rich Fire." The Locals also call it "Holy Sea", "Sacred Lake" and "Spiritual Waters." In Buryat "baigal-dalai" means "the true sea." Most likely, the name originated from the Kurykans who lived here in 6-8 cent. In Kurykan "Baikal" meant "Much Water." The first Russian travelers were using Evenk' name Lamu. Later they decided to use the Buryat one, and preffered to use -k- instead of -g- in a word.
Baikal is 20-25 million years old. The sediments are of an incredible thickness and reach 5 km in some spots. There are 1550 animal species and 1085 plants that grow in Baikal. Over 1200 of those species (60% of fauna and 15% of flora) do not exist anywhere else in the world. Noteworthy: a) nerpa, Baikal seals that have a steely-grey coat. They are populated 1000 km across the nearest salty body of water (how do they came here?) b) in the Northern part of Baikal, 400 m deep, communities beside the hydrothermal sources were found: sponge-derived fungi, unicellular organisms, crystal crustaceans and fish. Such sources in the body of fresh water are the only ones in the world.
The outlet, which forms alongside the headwaters of Angara and is around 10 km long, does not freeze in winter - even if the temperature falls -50º. There are ten thousands of ducks that spend winter here. They set up shelters in the snowdrifts. In other places of Baikal, ice might be up to 2 m thick. During the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Russian soldiers even drove a railroad over it.
The best way to start the knowledge with Baikal, is to visit Baikal museum in Irkutsk, which belongs to Irkutsk Scientific Centre of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science since 1993. There are only three museums in world that are dedicated to the lakes.
There are 30 islands in Baikal. The largest and the only living island of Baikal is Olkhon with steep mountains on the Eastern shore. The island is 72 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide with a population of 1500 people. The major occupations are fishing and cattle berding. The island's aboriginal people are Buryats. Scientists still debate whether "Olkhon" translates as "little forest" or "dry" as both names fit well. Olkhon has a great combination of landscapes and is rich with archeological landmarks. It was the first place on Baikal where Russian explorers visited during the 17th century. Olkhon is the geographical, historical and sacred center of Baikal, the heart of many legends and fairy tales and is believed to be the home of many Baikal spirits. The island is full of archeological memorials - the number exceeds 140. The most presentable is concidered to be the defensive wall built by the Kurikans which opened Horgojo cape.
We will also visit Burkhan Cape (Shaman Rock.) It is known as one of the palaces of Heaven's gods, tendril, and one of Asia's most sacred places. This is the most famous of Olkhon's capes. Burkhan is situated in the central part of the western coast of Olkhon, in the Pribaikalskiy National Park, near the settlement of Khuzhir. A pathway from the edge of Khuzhir imperceptibly leads one to a long cape ending in a steep slope leading straight to the rock of Burkhan. The two white marble rocks of Burkhan, linked by a depression, are covered by bright red lichen underlining the whiteness of the marble cliffs. The cave itself is a small chamber some 3-4 metres high on the western side of Burkhan. A narrow rising passage leads out of it to the eastern side of the rock. The cave, like Burkhan itself, was considered sacred by the early inhabitants of the island. Later, lamas used it as a Buddhist sanctuary.
We will spend a few days alongside the Chivyrkuisky Bay. Myagkaya Karga separates Barguzine Bay from Chivyrkuisky Bay. The bay got its present name from the name of the river Bolshoi Chivyrkui that flows into it at its northern end. There are no other such deep and sheltered bays at Baikal as those in Chivyrkuisky Bay. The shores of the Chivyrkuisky bays are covered in taiga, and their bottoms covered in carpets of algae; on a quiet day each blade is visible on the bottom, as are the shoals of fish feeding amongst them. Thanks to its inconsiderable depth and large number of sunny days, in summer the water in the Chivyrkuisky bays can heat up to 20-22 degrees, while in the shallow southern part of the bay it can get even warmer. In combination with the excellent beaches, some sandy, this makes Chivyrkuisky a very attractive place for summer holidays. Despite the human impact growing from year to year, the taiga on the shores of Chivyrkui serves as a safe home for wild animals. In the XIX century the researcher Gustav Radde declined to climb to the Alpine tundra tops of the Svyatoi Nos because of the large number of bears. Today there are fewer bears and they try not to catch the human eye.
We will also visit the northernmost cape of Olkhon island. A huge fang-shaped stone dominates over the cape. Approaching it from the sea, you will see a big piece of rock that looks like a figure of a woman. The locals call it ‘a Virgin'. In Buryat language Khoboy means ‘fang' or ‘grinder'. The legend has it that a woman that asked for the same wealthy house as one of her husband was turned by Tengries to a stone. The spirits declared she would be a stone till evil and envy occurs between people. Khoboy Cape is located close to the widest part of Baikal (79.5 km), and only in fine weather the Eastern shore is seen with the outline of the coastal mountains of Svyatoi Nos Peninsula. This site is also special for its multiple echoes reflecting from the solid rock. At the cape, there are samples of rare and relict vegetation. In winter do not miss the chance to see the fabulous ice decoration of the caves, with beautiful glassy icicles.
We will stay at the capital of Buryatya. Ulan-Ude is the capital city of the Buryat Republic, Russia. It is located about 100 km south-east of Lake Baikal on the Uda River at its confluence with the Selenga, on the 5640th km of the Trans-Siberian railway. Ulan-Ude was founded in 1666 by the Russian Cossacks as fortress Udinskoye. In the 70-ies of the XVII century it was chartered as a city and renamed Verkhneudinsk. Due to its favourable geographical position, the city grew rapidly and became a large trade centre which connected Russia with China and Mongolia. It soon became the administrative center of the Transbaikal region. In 1934 the city was renamed Ulan-Ude. The city itself has a distinct Asian-like feel, perhaps because of the cultural mix and proximity to Mongolia. There are about 400 000 inhabitants, but it seems to be very calm and local people are friendly to visitors.
We will have opportunity to climb the Cherski peak
(2090 m) and take an old Circum-Baikal Railway
before visting a small town Listvianka beside the headwaters of Angara (earlier name Listvenicnoje). The town was given such name because there are many deciduous trees around that area. Angara has extensive headwaters – around 1km in width. As it flows down, it looks like Angara falls into the hole which is 3,5m long. It is a kind of a rapid which controls the amount of the flowing water. Since this area does not freeze, it has become a place where birds spend winter. It was noticed yet in 1772 by the traveler and scientist I. Georgi.
- All the flights from Europe are through Moscow, for example the flight Riga – Irkutsk costs ~720 EUR.
- Ferry from the Olkhon island to Ust Barguzine costs ~44 EUR.
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