Lake Baikal is a narrow blue half-moon located almost in the middle of a huge continent of Eurasia. It spreads over 636 km in length and up to 80 km in width, in the Baikal mountainous area, surrounded by high ridges. The surface of Baikal is equal to Belgium with its 10-million population and plenty of cities!
Baikal is fed by 336 permanent rivers and streams, and half of the incoming water is brought by Selenga. And there is only one river flowing out of Baikal – and that is Angara.
The surface of the flat water is 31,470 sq. km. The maximum depth is 1,637 m, while the average is 730 m.
Undoubtedly, Baikal is the deepest lake in the world. Not everyone knows, that the second pretender to the title, which is the African lake Tanganyika, is as much as 200 meters behind the leader. There are 30 islands in Baikal, the largest among them is Olkhon. The question regarding the age of the lake is still open. Some sources indicate the figure of 20-25 million years. If we assume this is not a scientists’ mistake, Baikal can also be considered the oldest lake on Earth.
Baikal has more water than all five American Great lakes combined!
The water of Baikal is unique and amazing, just like Baikal itself. It is remarkably clear, clean and rich in oxygen. At all times it was considered healing, and many diseases were cured with it. In spring, the water clarity reaches 40 meters! This can be explained by the activity of microorganisms living in this water, which make it very low-mineralized and close to distilled.
Olkhon is the only Baikal island where people live permanently. In addition to local residents, there are ancient spirits living here. It was here that the first Buryat shaman was given the ability to talk to the spirits; shamans fled here from the lamas in the Genghis Khan. Here, at Cape Burhan, a stone dragon lives, and the sacred Shaman rock stands, revered by shamans and Buddhists. Burkhan is home to the Lord of Olkhon, the most revered deity in Baikal.
The island has mountains, dense forest, steppes and even deserts. Deserts are blocking the way to the picturesque Khoboy promontory on the northern tip of the island. Getting around the island is sometimes only possible by jeep. There are no rivers on the island, but there is the Shara-Nur salt lake, the Nuku-Nur lake teeming with wildlife, and the warm and fishful lake Khankhoy. Just like their ancestors, the locals fish, cultivate gardens, and ranch cattle. In winter, they walk across the ice to the "mainland".
Olkhon has a huge number of legends. It is incredibly beautiful, but you can reach it only by ferry in the summer or by a heavy ice road in the winter. It attracts more and more tourists. For them, the bike rental and the internet are available, as well as the night fishing, boat trips, horseback tours, photo safaris, and meetings with shamans. There is also a small local history museum in Khuzhir. Olkhon locals catch fish for visitors, prepare pozas (dumplings), lead tours along the coast.
The common practice is to greet the island upon arrival and to bid farewell when leaving. That is the custom of the Trans-Baikalian.
The Large and Small Slyudyanka lakes, located next to Baikal Lake, are widely regarded as one of the best recreation areas. These are residual lakes of the Baikal Bay. Lakes represent small pools and are separated (the Small Lake) from the edge of Baikal by wetlands. Lakes have almost perfect round shapes with low banks covered with pine forests of great beauty. The lakes are interconnected by the duct.
The name of the lakes was due to mica mined here in the 17th century. On the steep slopes which surround the lakes, a path to the galleries is still visible. If you go up the slopes, you will enjoy a beautiful view of the coast of Lake Baikal, of Boguchanskiy Island, of capes Pisaniy and Tonkiy. Slyudyanka Lakes have beautiful sandy beaches and the water in the summer is warmer here than in the Baikal basin, so a lot of tourists and locals come to the lakes for recreation. The tent camps are arranged along the lakes’ shores, which provide the accommodation to the visitors. Besides that, the lakes are abundant with fish, which makes the area attractive to the fishermen. The unique ecosystem makes Slyudyanka lakes an attractive place for any type of holiday: swimming, climatotherapy, trekking, health path, and others.
Slyudyanka lakes are included into the list of "One Hundred Wonders of Baikal".
The Severobaikalsk – Baikal car road provides an excellent opportunity to travel by car, bicycle, or to go hiking. Usually, the tourists make the difficult part of the way (which is from Severobaikalsk to Slyudyanka lakes) by car, with a stop at the mountain pass. From Slyudyanka lakes to the Baikalskoe village (16 km) it is possible to go on foot by the Great Baikal Trail along Baikal Lake.
The Aya Bay
The Aya Bay is a sandy beach, 800 m long and 600 m wide. It is close to a marble plateau of a promontory where the caves of Lake Baikal are located. At an altitude of 200 m, there are four caves with passages from 200 m to 1.5 km long. The longest of them is the Ryadovaya Cave, which can surprise anyone with its limestone formations and numerous passages leading to Lake Baikal. It was found that two caves are connected into one system, which has been recognized as the longest on the coast of the lake. The unique caves of Aya Bay consist of ancient rocks, such as marble, which is more than 2 billion years old. It is extremely difficult to find these Baikal caves in the desert of the bay alone, so it is best to use the assistance of a guide.
Not so high above the lake, in the northern part of the Aya Bay, there still exist ancient petroglyphs carved on marble rocks, whose age is 2500 years. The drawings are located under the stone canopy on flat rocks. Here you can see the images of a man and of all sorts of animals, such as deer, sheep, oxen, and fish. In the center of the drawing is a figure of a shaman. This is where, according to the locals, sacrifices were made and holidays were celebrated, nearby the sacred mount Yoord. In our days, shamans keep performing their rituals in Aya Bay, on the oblong marble slab. The slab adjoins the rock and forms a kind of “altar” to perform the rituals, such as burning the herbs and other sacrifices are offered to the spirits of the local land.
Yoord Sacred mountain
Covered with mysteries and ancient legends, Sacred mountain Yoord is 8 km from Elantsy village and 2 km from Lake Baikal. The mound is 40 meters high and so regular-shaped, that this pile of large granite slabs is still a subject of debate about its origin. Since ancient times, the mountain has played an important role in the lives of people living here. According to myths and legends, once a year the ritual dances were organized here for the people from the Baikal region. For a ceremonial dance people would arrange themselves around the mountain holding each other’s hands. One such circle dance could involve up to a thousand people. Celebration was held only if the dancing people could form a complete circle around the mound while holding their hands. If there were not enough people to close the circle, the holiday was considered failed. Sometimes there were so many people at the celebration, that even two or three full circles could be made. During the celebration, only shamans could go on top of the mountain to perform their rituals. Other people were banned from going there. There’s a story of very rich local man, who carpeted the entire surface of the mound with white lamb skins at the time of celebration.
Yoord games, or the Festival of Indigenous Peoples of Lake Baikal, was revived in 2000 after a century break. Now this festival is held near the mountain Yoord every 4 years.
Volcano Valley is one of the most attractive sights. It is situated at a considerable distance from civilization. It is a vast field consisting of lava and a variety of related deposits, bordered on both sides by two majestic elevations, which once were active volcanoes.
The first of them, a young dormant volcano, lies at 1.970 m and its peak is 2.050 m high, the crater diameter is 140 m, its depth is 30 m, and at the bottom, there is a small lake, of about 10 m in diameter. Over the years, trees and underwood have entirely covered the volcano. The second volcano is the largest young dormant volcano in the area, located at the southwest end of the valley, 3 km from the first volcano. It consists of basalt talus slag. The diameter of the crater is 200 m, the height above the lava field is about 120 m.
To get to the Valley, you will need to travel a difficult way, first from Orlik village to mineral springs "Hoyto-Goll" (about 80 kilometers), and then about 10 kilometers of walking through the picturesque areas of the Eastern Sayan, Cerba passage, and numerous mountain lakes.
The Snake Cove
The Snake Cove reveals another unique feature of the great lake. Baikal is not just a place for outdoor activities, but also a place that serves the recreational and wellness goals. A combination of impressive panoramas, amazing landscapes, and health-giving areas is not so common in the world.
The Snake Cove is located in the Chivyrkui Bay near the Holy Nose peninsula. The peculiar name of the cove was due to non-poisonous whip snakes that live in the area. The cove is known for its thermal and healing waters. You can walk to the cove from Monakhovo village by a mountain trail that goes through a beautiful pine forest, which will take 4-5 hours.
This area is perfect for the treatment and for a beach holiday. The water contains large amounts of minerals. And the temperature of the hot springs is 38 to 45 degrees Celcius. Due to all these features, the water here is healing and unique in its own way. This helps to cure a large number of diseases of the spine and bones. The most famous of all the springs here is the Serpentine spring. Two wooden cabins for 4 persons each were built here for bathing. After bathing in the thermal waters, it is not recommended to get into the Baikal cold water right away. In the winter time, the landscapes are amazingly beautiful here, when the snow around the springs melts and the colorful algae blossom in the water between the ground and the ice edge. There are also several other springs in the Snake Cove.
Fishing on Lake Baikal brings great pleasure to all fans of this type of activity. Every fisherman will appreciate dozens of fish species, including those that are found only in Siberia (e.g., omul and taimen). Baikal fishing is not only a valuable catch but also the beautiful sceneries of this many-faced lake.
The most visited by the fishermen is the southern part of Lake Baikal, where it is allowed to use fishing nets. The northern part of the lake is hard to access, so it is visited less frequently, though it is a dream of many fishermen to get there. It can be reached by yacht or a motor boat, many of which are equipped with comfortable cabins and even saunas. The cost of renting such a boat varies depending on the number of travelers. The speed they develop is not too high; it is about 12 knots per hour. Fishing in the northern part of the lake should be planned well in advance, as renting a proper boat during the peak season can be challenging.