For the curious - a pinch of information from an encyclopedia about lake Baikal
To be sure, this is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world. It is such an enormous size that it not only stretched past the horizon, but also our capacity to believe that it was simply a lake. Like in the forest of mammouth sequoias in California, the scale of the very world itself comes under question. Baykal is actually a fresh-water sea, with the taste of fresh mineral water.
As I stood on the shore of the seemingly infinitely sized lake, I saw far away, what appeared to be tiny mountains (an almost negligible 2500m it turned out) shrouded in fog. At that time, I wanted more than anything else to sail on this completely empty and uncrowded lake. If truth be told, it is possible to rent something in Irkutsk, where there is a large harbour full of yachts but these services are aimed at the 'west-men' and so were out of our grasp because of their price. For not so huge sum we could have travelled over the lake by hydrofoil, known to the locals as The Rocket to the major harbours which are situated around the lake at strategic intervals.
Our journey began at Sljudanka, on the Western horn of the lake - the region The Soviet's have given a bad reputation because of their "cheerful" Industrial Revolution. However, this is actually an impossible thing to do, because Baikal is too big, and too beautiful, for anyone, or anything, to destroy it. In Sljudanka is a museum with a large, and very impressive I may add, collection of minerals and rocks from the Baikal area; in fact from the whole of the Sayanys. Not without a certain relief, we left this tiresome little village, and proceeded by train to Bajkalsk, which is where the waters, which have finally reached the end of this enormous lake, eventually pore out into the Angara river. The journey itself was very impressive. The trails ran just parallel to the shore line, and the mountains were overcome by a system of ingeniously placed tunnels. This is the world famous railway route built by the Poles during the time of the Tsars. Because this is just a local line - the service runs but twice a day - there are always plenty of varied and exciting faces to stare at on the journey.
After spending the night in the harbour area, we tried out 'The Rocket'. During the whole of our trip
we had the 'pleasure' of being accompanied by what at first sight appeared to be a mafioso. Very exotic. We were heading
for Sjachurta, a small, shabby looking, yet at the same time totally unforgettable village - it looked
like a ghost-town because of its steps among the bald hillocks. Even more interestingly, (in guides) it is one of the major
tourist destinations on Lake Baikal....
The village's surroundings appeared almost like a computer simulation - single yellow brown trees on the hillocks, and in the background taiga.
We had great problems buying bread. It was our own fault, we should have done this sooner. However, as with all things, we found that money smoothed out our difficulties. From Sjachurta we took the ferry to the island of Olchon, just a stones throw away. When I saw the island it was a case for me of deja vu, I had seen the same image in my dreams some time in the past. On the island, I found that I couldn't walk, I felt I had to run - over the infinity of hillocks covered in wispy, knee-length grass. On all sides was lake Baikal - the crystal clear water in the multitude of bays surrounding the island was innocent of the world around it. At this moment, my only wish was to lay down in the grass and stay forever ...
In Sjachurta we sampled Omuli - an unbelievably delicate fish, which is possible to eat raw. There we again encountered some Buriats, one of whom we christened 'Plastus (alias 'prince Charles'), because of his unfortunate flappy ears. But he definitely wasn't a dumb peasant - immediately recognised the word 'Poland', and could even hum the 'polonez' melody. Our mouths fell open in amazement. However, we did not want to miss this opportunity, and so arranged a dance on one of the piers which are situated on the edge of the lake. Later, having progressed to Barguzin we swam to The Sandy Bay. We found that here in turbaza the scenery was entirely different. It more closely represented that of the Mediterranean region - the ragged rocks, sandy beaches, and aromatic pine forests. (JPEG 112 KB). The waters, however, were not Mediterranean. This meant our bathes were very brief - although totally unforgettable. Unfortunately though, the time was passing, and we had to return to Irkutsk, which after the tranquility of Baikal was a real headache. Crowds of people continued to pile onto the already dangerously overcrowded boat. Even so, there was still not enough room for all the people who wanted to go, and some were left behind. Inside the atmosphere was so stuffy and smelly, that I imagined that I could hang an axe on it. Outside it was not much better - bitterly cold because the ship was rushing along at 30 knots.
Arriving back in Irkutsk was a tearful experience for us, because our great adventure was at an end. So now, leave me in
my grief, this is the end of the tale. Still, the negatives were nothing in comparison to the many wonderful moments we
So come to Baikal, you will find it is really worth your while.
To the journey's start