The lake is gorgeous – but a lake – is a lake – is a lake. However what helps separates lake Baikal from all other lakes is; lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake of the planet and the largest reservoir of fresh water. Its famous clear waters freeze at the surface in the winter and they are crystal clear, so when you drive on the lake you see the water below. I am told it’s a scary feeling by our local guide.
The lake is over 600 kilometres long and has a maximum width of the lake is 79 kilometers. It lies along a tectonic break which explains the depth @ 1637 meters, as this makes it lake the deepest of the world.
The Lake covers an area of 31,722 square kilometers and is fed by over 300 rivers flowing into the lake. It is also the oldest lake of the world; since, this lake has existed since 25 million years ago.
The sunset at the lake is simply magical despite the cold night temperature as the sun sets, so you must dress warmly.
Once we arrived after a 1h20 drive from Irkutsk to Listvyanka, we stopped to watch what looked to be a speckled rock in the river’s mouth. /see below/
The shaman stone on the angara river is one of the tourist attractions to see, and unless you see it upclose, you waste your time. Luckily I asked our pilot to make a stop and circle the stone so we could see it up close. The cliff as its called the “Shaman Stone” is never covered by water in the middle of the riverbed. But what are shamans anyway because our guide didn’t have much to say about it? The Shamans are high priests of the isolated wilderness who command trance-level consciousness, have become increasingly popular in New Age spiritual quests.
The sacred center of the shamans in the Northern Hemisphere are on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. Due to its perfect isolation, Olkhon was the last stronghold of the North Asian shamans, and was a refuge for the Mongolian shamans hiding from persecution in the time of Genghis Khan. Later for the Buryat shamans when Buddhism spread in Buryatia, and today traditional rites are still performed on Lake Baikal to this day.
In tribal societies of Siberia and Central Asia shamanism always has been a fundamental factor in religious life from the Bronze Age. Even though from 1920 onward, Buryat shamanism was fought by Soviet authorities, many traditions were secretly preserved and nowadays ethnic groups from Lake Baikal, Trans Baikal and Altai regions still perform traditional rites.
In ancient times people believed the Shaman Stone possessed miraculous powers. It was here that they performed rituals and sacrifices. A person suspected of committing a crime was left overnight on the rock, and if he had not died from the cold or drowned by the next morning, all accusations were dropped.
There are other sacred sites:
Cape Ryty is located on the western shore of Lake Baikal. This mysterious place is sacred to the nearby inhabitants and a difficult destination for tourists.
Cape Khoboy: translates as a canine tooth and is located at the most northern cape on Olkhon Island. The rock looks like a sharp fang, and when viewed from the lake, it resembles woman’s figure. Locals call the rock Deva, a the young woman and perhaps Diva is derived here. According to Buryat legend, Baikal shamans turned a jealous woman into stone who had asked them to give her a palace just like her husband’s.
Cape Bogatyr: is fascinating for shamans. It is a cape of Olkhon. The traditional name of the cape is Ogneny (fire). The first Russian explorers who sailed to the island at the end of the 16th century suddenly saw a huge column of fire shoot up in front of them from the waters of Baikal into the sky.
Alkhanai Mountain: is one of the Buryat Buddhist shrines and is @ 1,665 metres with the Temple of Great Benefit is located at its base. Nearby is a natural grotto along which a deep fissure cleaves deeply into the rock. The water that flows out of the rock is thought to have the power to cure disease.
Byk Mountain: is located north of the Irkut River, at the western tip of Lake Baikal. It is connected with the cult of the sacred ancestor of the Buryat people, Bukh Noyon, who was an earthly deity and the patron saint of pastures and livestock. Shamanistic and Buddhist rites are performed here by Buryats who live west of the lake.
Ekhe Yordo mound: is on the bank of the Angi river 2 kilometers from Lake Baikal is a ceremonial place where the ethno-cultural festival named Yordyn Games Spring Festival of Indigenous Peoples of Baikal was reintroduced after 100 years. Since then, the festival has been held here every four years.
A main event at the games is a circular dance around the Ekhe-Yordo (the big hill) that is a kind of marathon taking several days to complete. It takes 700 people to completely encircle the hill, and the festival has 2,000+ visitors. The games take place over several days, and the sacred dance around the great hill continues day and night but during the festival, but only shamans are allowed to climb to the top of the hill.
According to shamanism universe is divided into three worlds: upper world, earth and the underworld. These worlds are connected by a cosmic axis called by the Buryats (in Baikal region) the “Golden Pillar” and recognized as the center of the universe and the place of penetration of the individual worlds.
The upper world is inhabited by gods, underworld demons and the center – earth – by humans. There are also Abaasies – spirits that can live in all three worlds. Shamans can interact and communicate with spirits from each world.
Shaman acts on behalf of spirits and deities. Using mentioned methods he performs the banishment of an evil spirit from the body of a person and brings back the soul stolen by those spirits before. –
The lake from what we saw is based on locals and their cottages, and its a sparse place to say the least. There one hotel we stayed (one night) is heads above the others in Listvankya, given we moved due the poor conditions from Mayak hotel, a terrible Trip Advisor rating: http://www.baikalhotel.ru/en/
The village of Listvyanka is very dull with minimal charm unless you are a scavenger traveller looking for a cheap souvenirs. The cuisine at Lake Baikal from what I could tell is based on local products using a variety of raw materials such as; potato, eggs, dumplings, salmon roe, fish, flour mushrooms and some meats. I hate to over simplify the list of raw materials but that’s the way it is. Russian cuisine is mostly based on what they find locally in the lake, or in the forest, and the sanctions haven’t made any real changes to their diets. In fact since the boycott of French cheese they are reviving the cottage industries in and around Russia with the production of local products.
The kitchens are very simple and basic without any pretension and here are some of the foods we were offered.
The challenge of visiting Baikal is the transportation network and you are somehow obliged to use boat or helicopter and the boats are archaic. We started a cruise but abandoned it after several hours of breathing exhaust fumes.
I think the toilet together with the shower without any divider to the shower area made me feel as if I travelled back in time to a place I had never been.
I imagine a trip to Baikal in the winter is worthwhile and no doubt the nature in Siberia is exotic given the territory’s vast area and diversity. Careful planning is key to enjoying a trip to Russia and using a reliable, knowledgeable and credible person is key to the success of any visit to Russia.