Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is a true jewel of nature, a treasure hidden in the vast remoteness of the Siberian taiga. Baikal holds the record as the deepest lake in the world, with a depth of 1600 meters. It is also the cleanest and oldest, and the one with the largest volume of water: 20% of all the flowing water in the entire world is found in Baikal. It is a magical place with gorgeous landscapes, nature of incomparable beauty, and numerous legends. Its coasts are inhabited by the Buryat people, who revere the lake, along with Russian settlers, and shamanistic holy places, Buddhist Datsan temples and Orthodox monasteries are scattered across the beautiful banks surrounding Baikal. The ecosystem of Baikal is one of the richest, most diverse in the world, as, due to its isolation, most of its fauna and flora is endemic. The most notable specimens are the Baikal Seal or Nerpa; the Omul, a sort of small salmon, and the Baikal Sturgeon. The neighboring forests are populated by bears, wolverines, reindeer, and lynxes, among others.

Stop at Shaman’s Rock. Rising out of the Angara River and very near Lake Baikal, where the river originates, Shaman Rock holds intense spiritual meaning for locals. Here the Angara River Master, Ama Sagaan Noyon, is believed to have lived, and this was a place where many shamanistic ceremonies, such as rituals, oath, prayers, and punishments, took place.

Panoramic tour of Listvianka. Listvianka is a small town with no more than 2000 people situated on the southwestern shore of Lake Baikal, 65 km from Irkutsk at the source of the Angara River. Its name comes from the larch trees (“listvennitsa” in Russian) that grow close to the town. Listvianka is one of the oldest settlements on Lake Baikal, as it was founded at the very beginning of the 18th century. The town lived off trade, fishing, and shipbuilding, and was a base for scientific research and expeditions. Today Listvianka is mostly a tourist location: during the summer months Listvianka is the starting point for most boat tours and tourist trips and expeditions on Lake Baikal. During our short tour we will visit the orthodox wooden church of Saint-Nicolas and the small market, where the local babushkas sell smoked fish from the lake and some locally produced handicrafts. On the other side of the Angara River, which flows from Lake Baikal at Listvianka to the Yenisei River, we can see Tolsty Cape and the Lighthouse.

Visit to the Baikal Ecology Museum. Here we can discover many facts about the stunning fauna and flora that populate the unique Baikal ecosystem. In the museum’s aquariums we will see many of its endemic fishes and we will even admire a Nerpa, the Baikal Seal, one of the few in the world living in fresh water. A virtual submarine will show us the depths of the lake and the life inhabiting it.

Cable car to Mount Chersky. We will take a cable car up Mount Chersky (755 m) where a beautiful view looks out over the peaks of the Khamar-Daban Mountains. From there we can discover the village of Port Baikal and landmarks such as Shaman Rock, the source of the Angara River, the Astrophysical Observatory, and the endless Siberian taiga.

Boat trip on Lake Baikal and lakeside hike. If weather permits, we will cross the lake by boat, allowing us to appreciate its beauty and the surrounding landscapes. We will be able to stop near one of the beautiful sandy beaches and brave the cold, crystal Baikal waters for a swim. We will also take a short hike on its shores and discover some typical objects of the local culture.

Visit to Ust-Orda and discovery of the Buryat culture. The Buryat people have lived in the region around Lake Baikal for millennia. When the Mongols occupied the majority of Asia in the 13th century, the Buryats were subdued by Genghis Khan and then adopted the Mongol language and most of the Mongol customs. When they met the first Russian explorers in the 17th century, they paid tribute and maintained mostly peaceful relations while simultaneously preserving their own culture and traditions. Since 1923, they have had their own autonomous republic, occupying the regions south and east of Lake Baikal, along with some Buryat districts in the neighboring provinces. Even though they hold Russian passports, most of the Buryats have retained their cultural identity: Lake Baikal is a sacred site that has given birth to many legends and rituals, as they practice shamanism or Tibetan Buddhism. We will visit a Buryat community in the Buryat district of Ust-Orda and discover several elements of this original culture: folkloreshamanism, Buryat traditional cooking, and ritual ceremonies.