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Lake Baikal Region
Diving in Lake Baikal
Arshan and the Sayan Mountains
Often called the "Pearl of Siberia," Lake Baikal is a natural wonder located in the Southeastern part of Siberia. Its 1600 meter (almost 1 mile) depth make it the deepest freshwater lake in the world. It serves as the world's largest reservoir of freshwater, and it holds 20% of the freshwater on the planet. The lake is fed by 336 rivers and streams that flow from the surrounding mountains and all parts of Siberia. It is estimated that it took over 400 years for these rivers and streams to fill the lake originally.
Its 600 kilometer length cuts through Siberia and has an ecosystem of its own. Lake Baikal has more unique species of fish, plants and animals than any other lake in the world. The lake was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
It is considered the oldest lake in the world and has been an important holy place for several Asian cultures for many centuries. Through the years the native peoples of the area prayed to the lake and believed in its power. Around the lake are unique carvings and parts of the ritual buildings of the tribes that have been gone for thousands of years.
Common things to do in the area include a visit the city Irkutsk, travel to Listvyanka, a tourist village on the lake shore, head up to Olkhon Island for a few days peace and solitude, travel by boat on the lake (but not across the lake), take the Circum-Baikal Railway from Slydyanka to Port Baikal and then the ferry to Listvyanka.
Some people also spend a few days on the Eastern side of the lake near Ulan Ude and explore that area are well.
If you are interested in hiking in hills and near hot springs, there are two possibilities in this region. Check out the Arshan and the Sayan Mountains. Another possibility is to take the 10+ hour boat ride to the Severobaikalsk in the northern part of the lake.
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Irkutsk is a city of over 600,000 inhabitants located on the Angara River. It is the starting point for many who adventure to the Lake Baikal area because it is a major point on the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian train route.
Founded by Russians in 1652 as a major fort beyond the Ural mountains, it was populated initially by exiled political prisioners. These prisoners sent by the tsars and later by the Communists.
Although one of the city's first industrial enterprises was a brick factory, the majority of buildings in Irkutsk were constructed of wood until the 20th century. In fact, Irkutsk is famous for its wooden buildings despite a major fire in 1879 that damaged over 80% of the center city. The town was rebuilt in 1898 by the influx of workers sent to construct the Trans-Siberian Railway. Despite more recent building during Soviet times, there remain over 100 old wooden buildings and structures that are protected by the government.
When the Decembrist uprising of 1825 failed, five participants were executed immediately, and many others were punished. Some had their military ranks reduced and were sent to fight in fierce battles then raging in the Caucasus, others were deprived of all their rights and estates and sentenced to exile for life in Siberia, including the Irkutsk Province. The first Decembrists arrived here in 1826. From this point they were sent to different places depending upon the terms of their sentences. Some were sent further from civilization to hard labor in mines, factories, prisons or forts, while others were banished to remote, more thinly populated areas in Eastern Siberia. Some settled nearby, others later moved into the city. Their passage through Irkutsk added to the character of the city. Even after the amnesty of 1856, only 42 exiles returned West as they were still not permitted to live within the boundaries of Moscow or Petersburg. Today their stories are told in part at the Decembrist Museum in Irkutsk.
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- Baikaler Hostel is run by Jack Sheremetov. It's a 3 guest room apartment in the center of town.
Address: Lenin street, Building #9, Apartment 11
- Baikal Hostel was the first hostel in Irkutsk and opened in March 2003. It is slightly outside town and run by a German Russian friendship group. Their website has information about the Lake Baikal area (Olkhon, Sayan Mountains, etc.)
Address: Lermontova Str., 136, first Floor, Apartment 1
- Downtown Hostel is run by a Russian group and is located in City center.
Address: Stepana Razina Street dom 12, Apartment 12
- Reportedly there is another hostel in Irkutsk at Pionersky pereulok, 10-17.
- Try Elena Gorshkova. Check out her website: Helen's Homestay
- The cheapest hotel in Irkutsk is a place called Yzory, located in the city center, near the bus station. They have rooms for USD 6-8, but they also have a billiard table room where you can sleep on the table for less then regular room price :-))
- Other hotels:
- Hotel "Angara" located in the main square of Irkutsk (breakfast included)
Floor 7 (3+ star after reconstruction in December 1996, these rooms are better than similar rooms in the hotel "Irkutsk-Intourist") but are also twice the price of room on Floor 3.
- Hotels "Baikal-Intourist," "Irkutsk-Intourist" (breakfast included)
- Hotel "Rus", located near the main square of the city (breakfast included)
- Hotel "Akademicheskaya," located in the Academicians Village, about 20 min. from the center by bus; breakfast not included.)
- Homestay can be arranged in Irkutsk, Listvyanka, village Bolshie Koty and Olkhon Island. Write any of these contacts:
email@example.com see their website Hotel Asia,
Host Families Association, although based in St. Petersburg, they have accommodations in over 60 Russian towns.
It has often been written and reported by others that it is possible to registration your visa in Irkutsk at the Hotel Angara simply by offering to pay a few rubles. There is a travel agency just to the right of the reception desk of the Hotel Angara. For a fee (now several hundred rubles), the folks at the travel agency there will happily register your migration card. You will need to leave your passport and migration card in their care for several hours for this to be done. It is easiest to drop it off in the morning and pick it up later in the day but check when they are open.
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Olkhon Island - courtesy of TT contributor, Markbek
Remember there are no phones, no electricity, no computers etc on the island!
Don't go there if you're in a hurry or want facilities, but it is a great place to really soak up some spiritual energy.
The bus Irkutsk to Khuzhir runs daily in mid summer cost 257.50 rubles 2002 and took us 8 hrs (departs 08:10am but be sure to buy tickets a day before at least as it's a long way to stand even if they were to allow this!) N.B. The bus is only daily in mid summer - the frequency drops off progressively until around November when the ferry stops running completely and there is no way across at all. Then in Mid winter when the lake freezes properly, it's possible to drive across but in that season the bus runs only to Yelantsy (or possibly to MRS - marked on some maps as Sakhyurta, where the ferry would leave from in summer) and from there you'll have to hitch or hire a ride. In late spring, the island is inaccessible again as the half melted ice makes it impassable for both cars and boats. From around May or early June, there may be a bus a week, rising to 3 per week in late June and daily in July.
If you drive by car, the 8 hour journey is cut to 4.5 - 5 hours - worth considering if you have a group - ask around on the island and you can often find someone to take you back to Irkutsk for a sensible price (say 1000R), though going the otherway you'd pay a fortune.
THE place to stay in Khuzhir is Nikita's Guest House. The address is ul. Kirpichnaya 6.
It's just behind the Shaman Rocks. The owner speaks English and it's a truly great traveller hangout. If you may think the USD 15 charge is a bit high for a place with nice but simple facilities plus 3 great meals a day (personally I think it's worth the money), then there's a little cottage hotel near where the bus stops on ul. Lesnaya - beds cost R70 if you can find the woman who has the key!!! There are some other yurt camps further up the island which look great, but they're more expensive than Nikita's and a little less friendly, plus hard to reach. You can rent a mountain bike at Nikita's to go and look at them, if you want!
Another TT contributor wrote: "If you go, then head up to the island of Olkhon and the main village/town of Khuzir. Beats the pants off Listvyanka and the place to stay is with a lovely woman called Lyube who speaks some English and her mother Baba Liza who cooks fantastic food. Cost incl. meals is USD 15 per night and there are a fair number of interesting sights to see, including hints of the islands shamanistic past." Address for Lyube is:
Ulitsa (Street) Lesnaya 37
Another TT contributor wrote about a place on Olkhon Island called "Sunny Hostel" at 14 Solnechnaya Str, 53 Gogol Str, off. 3.
WaytoRussia.net Olkhon Island map
This page has perhaps the best map of Olkhon Island, but also look at their page about the island as well.
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This is a 70 km piece of the original Trans-Baikal train line and a unique monument of architectural and technical design. Construction of the entire 260 km stretch of train track was begun at the very end of the 19th century. During the building of the first track, there were constructed 39 tunnels (total length 3751,5 sazhens or 8004 meters), and also about 500 shoots, bridges and viaducts. Construction of the railway involved from 2700 (1900) to 15,000 workers (1903). Construction of the second track on Circum-Baikal railway began in 1911 and was completed by April 1914, three months prior to the beginning the First World War. The section of the original track that can be traveled today is between Port Baikal on the Angara River and Slyudanka, which is a stop on the Trans-Siberian train route.
It used to be that this train operated only during the summer. Now there are reports are that it operates all year but still on a limited schedule. It departs from Slyudanka to Port Baikal on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The train operates during daylight and makes three scheduled stops.
For more information about the schedule and connections to/from Irkutsk, Ulan Ude, Listvyanka and Port Baikal, see Schedules of Transport
Tickets for the Circum-Baikal Railway are NOT purchased at the train station in Irkutsk. They should be arranged through a travel agency.
In May 2007, the cost of the trip on Circumbaikal train (one day excursion): is 750 Rub (2nd class), 900 Rub (1st class).
Two options are offered by the railway company:
- Wednesday, Saturday - departure 8am from railway station Irkutsk, getting by railroad to Port Baikal, then by ferry to Listvyanka and then by bus along Baikalsky highway back to Irkutsk (arrival 9pm)
- Thursday, Sunday - departure 8am from the center of town by bus off to Listvyanka, then by ferry to Port Baikal and then by railroad to Irkutsk railway station (arrival 9:30pm).
Also one can get on the Circumbaikal train in Slyudyanka (if you are heading to Baikal area from Ulan - Bator or Ulan - Ude) but only on Wednesday or Saturday and one should be there on the station not later than 10:30 am to get on the train. The trip will take the entire day and you will be in Irkutsk at 9:30pm, making it through port Baikal and Listvyanka village.
In high season tickets are booked well in advance due to a big demand from the locals and guests of the Baikal area. One should buy a ticket 10 days before the trip, otherwise the reservation is cancelled and the ticket is sold out.
For more info you may contact Circumbaikal clerk Anastasia Pavlova directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who not only want to take a drive along Lake Baikal, but also to get off to rest and relax, there are at least three tourist camps. The services of these resorts: Silver Key (Cerebryania Clutch); the Pine Lodge (Chvoinaya) and the Shumicha are currently available through the Economic Development Center of the East-Siberian Railway. Each of these sites has facilities for a maximum of twenty guests. The Center can arrange excursions, boat trips, water skiing, hiking, fishing. For more information contact them at:
JSC 'Economic Development Center of East-Siberian Railway'
5 Armee Street 67 664000 Irkutsk, RUSSIA
Telephone: 7 (3952) 29 41 46, 7 (3952) 29 40 46
Fax: 7 (3952) 33 37 60
For more historical information, check out the Circum-Baikal Railway, the golden clasp on the steel girdle of the Russian Empire.
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Listvyanka is a settlement 65 kilometers southeast of Irkutsk on the shore of Lake Baikal near the source of the Angara River. Russian pioneers came to this spot in the middle of the 17th century, and a hundred years later there was a stage post operating here. The settlement grew along with the development of navigation on Lake Baikal.
Listvyanka is now a small settlement, but it has shipbuilding and ship repairing yards of its own. It is a 1.5 hour bus ride that costs about 2-3 USD or you can take a one hour car ride for about 15-20 USD. You can also arrive to Listvyanka by ferry from Port Baikal. The trip is only five minutes, but should be booked in advance and costs 4 USD.
Listvyanka is a tourist village that some people prefer to avoid. There are hotels for any budget and taste, cafes and restaurants. In summer one can arrange to rent a bike, take walks beginning there, go rafting, ride horses. In winter there is snowmobiling, dog sledding, skiing, banya opportunities among other things. In addition, there is the Limnological Museum (or Museum of Baikal), the Shaman Rock, sneaking out of Angara river, the Altsy Museum of Wooden Architecture, the Nerpa seal aquarium, and the local market. The entrance to the ZaBaikalskiy National Park is not far from the entrance to the Wooden Architecture museum.
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Diving in Lake Baikal
Both the places listed below were recommended by Jack Sheremetoff, an Irkutsk local.
Alpindustria Baikal or AB tours - Diving, skiing, mountain biking, rafting, horseback rides, tours to Lake Baikal. They offer winter activities at Lake Baikal or on Olkhon Island.
Address: Office 15,
55 Decabrsky Sobity street, Irkutsk 664007
Tel.: +7 (3952) 290 997
Tourism department: email@example.com
Dive center: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions : email@example.com
AQUA-ECO, is a company established in 1991. It arranges dives for tourists and diving trainings to obtain CMAS certificate. Since 1994, the company has been arranging winter diving safaris using the boat specially designed for that purpose. They introduced ice diving in 1997. The Jacques Yves Cousteau team found them experienced enough to work together on their Baikal movie.
Director: Andrey Baranovsky
Address: 12 Karla Libknechta, Irkutsk 664007
Tel.: +7 (3952) 33 42 90, 20 10 00
Fax.: +7 (3952) 33 42 90
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Severobaikalsk is the capital of the northen end of Lake Baikal. To get there it is a 10+ hour boat ride that operates only during summer. There is no overland connection between this part of Lake Baikal and Irkutsk. Severobaikalsk is on the BAM, Baikal Amur branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway, a much less frequently traveled path. Severobaikalsk has a population of 27,500 and grew out of the virgin taiga with the arrival of the BAM constructors in 1974.
One of the more unusual activites in the area is to visit a hot springs. These range from small-family sized springs to large elaborate multi-level pools of varying temperatures. The mineralized water is supposedly very relaxing. The area is also well known for good trekking, berry picking, mushroom collecting and experiencing Siberia's natural beauty. Among other things to do are exploring the bays, islands, mountains, nature preserves, indigenous villages and gulags. There are a variety of water sports such as swimming, sailing, canoeing and cruising in the summer. In the winter there are opportunities to ski, skate and ride the ice. All year round one can hike, trek and climb mountains, photograph the unique birds and seals, and catch and eat the native fish.
The Kometa is a hydrofoil that operates between Port Baikal near Irkutsk and Severobiakalsk. Supposedly there are only two stops, but in reality the hydrofoil stops en route anywhere a local or traveler makes arrangements for it to do so. Reportedly, there is only the one boat and it leaves the Irkutsk area about 08:20 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. On the return trip it leaves Nizhneangarska at 07:20 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays. All hydrofoils depart from 'Raketa' harbor, located in microdistrict Solnechny, Tel: 23 80 72 or 35 88 60. It's not clear if tickets can be reserved in advance, but they can be purchased in advance of departure. Advance purchase is recommended. If you don't have tickets and it is impossible to buy one because the boat is "sold out", arrive early and try to get on board and pay cash. There is seating for about 105 persons. Remember to bring along plenty of food and drink. Nonstop the trip takes about 10 hours depending upon the weather.
The roads in and out of Severobaikalsk are minimal. The only other transportation between Irkutsk and Severobaikalsk is the 33 hour train ride. The 71/72 leaves boths towns only on even days. Beware, however, that its summer schedule is sometimes different.
For a recommended contact in this area - Rashitu Yahin:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
16-2 Octyabrya Str. Severobaikalsk 671701 Russia
Tel.: (7) 30139 21560, also as fax
between from 6 pm. to 3 am. at the Moscow time
This comment was posted on the TT by Europakorps regarding this individual: stayed at Rashid Yahin's appartment for 600 rubles a night (note summer 2004)... great but the man screwed us on a tour around Baikal lake, which was not so great. As LP says, make sure you know the price beforehand!
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Arshan and the Sayan Mountains
Sayan is the large mountainous land of Southern Siberia, mainly to the south and west from Lake Baikal. Sayan has sometimes been referred to as "Little Tibet" because Buddhism in it's Lamaistic form is now widespread among the native Buryat population who reside in this region. There are several Datsans, or Buddhist monasteries, in Buryatia, including one, the Ivolginskiy Datsan, near Ulan Ude. But this nickname is only partially true, because the Buddhist faith as practiced by the Buryats is a very interesting mixture of their ancient beliefs, Shamanism, and the worship of ancestors, Ongons. In many holy places, such as mountain passes, one can see simultaneously figures dedicated to Ongons and the images of Buddha.
The unique feature of the area is its amazing number of hot springs (probably these are the tracks of volcanic activity). The area is often referred to as the "Valley of a Hundred Springs." These springs are widely used for medical purposes by both the local population and tourists who come for medical treatments. Arshan is a medical resort in the Tunka valley situated between the ranges of the Sayan and Hamar Daban mountains. The village is located 210 kilometers from Irkutsk, and the trip takes about 3 hours by bus (or 2 hours by car). This village is well known throughout Russia for its thermal waters resort.
In addition to the hot springs, the region's other attraction is the Sayan Mountains, which are great for hiking, horseback riding and rafting. The Kynryga river, with its many waterfalls near Arshan, travels through these mountains.
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Resources for the Lake Baikal area. Some of these offer ideas for activities during summer and winter.
- Baikal Complex a hostel in Irkutsk.
- Baikal Naran Tour E-mail Svetlana Timofeyevna or Naran to arrange accommodations and tours in the Ulan Ude area.
- Lake Baikal Guidebook a travel agency on the east side of the lake in UU with lost of useful information about that area, trekking in the national parks around Baikal and other useful information.
- Irkutsk Home - lots use practical and interesting information about the area.
- Jack Sheremetoff a tour guide in Irkutsk who comes highly recommended by other travelers. You can contact him on the TT. His username is baikaler.
- Baikal Adventures another tour guide in the Baikal area.
- K2 adventures organizes treks, white water rafting and trips in this area, as well as Altai, and Central Asia. Contact Igor whose TT user name is black climber.
- Russia Experience a tour company located in the UK
- Siberian Student guides young, local Baikal area tour guides
- SokolTours a Russian tour company
- Tours-Baikal another Baikal area tour company
- WaytoRussia guide an information resource and perhaps the best place to get an overview of things to do in the Baikal area.
- Northern Baikal Area for tourism information in Severobaikalsk and the nearby hot springs of Dzelinda, Goudzhekit, Khakusy, Kotelnikovsky.
- Baikal area transport schedules
- SibTravel Club another Northern Baikal area tour company offering trips from Severobaikalsk
- Also check some of the resources on my Trans-Siberian Trains page.
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Climate for Irkutsk
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