Eastern Siberia : Lake Baikal
The lake is located in Eastern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and Buryatia to the southeast. It is the planet's deepest (1637m) and oldest lake, as well as its largest body of freshwater, containing over one fifth of the world's supply. The origins of the name are unknown, but several hypotheses are these : deep water (Yakut), rich lake (Turkic), rich fire (Mongolian), northern sea (Chinese). Russians sometimes call the lake Baikal sea because of its size.
The lake's geological formation started around 20-25 million years ago in the Mesozoic Era and even nowadays its rift is continuing to widen 2cm a year. The first mention of its name appeared in Chinese writings in 110 year B.C. as "Beihai" (Northern Sea). Several cultures have appeared on its shores, including the Buryat. Russian sources first mention Baikal in 1640 after which was a time of exploration and description by Russian Cossacks and the Church until its first scientific expedition in 1723. On October 13, 1905 the Circum-Baikal Railway opened. In 1916 Barguzinsky Nature Reserve was organized. In 1990, wind-surfers from Russia, Austria and Czechoslovakia were the first to cross the lake's widest point. In 1991, the deepest point on the lake's bottom was declared near Olkhon Island, and since then slightly deeper points have superseded the original. In 1997 Lake Baikal became a part of UNESCO Heritage. The vessel "Sevan" begins cruise tours in 2003.
Baikal mountains surrounding the valley and the lake consist of a few ranges. In the west there are the Baikal Mountains, in the east the Zabaikalskie Mountains. The Angara River is the only outflow of Lake Baikal. The ranges, rivers and valleys are tourist attractions of their own.
Flora and fauna
The water mass is a key factor to the climate of the lake's banks. Winters are often milder, summers are chillier. Spring-time is late 10-15 days than the outer regions and fall is rather long. The area is distinctive for sunshine longevity which is record-high for the of whole Russia. Specific traits are added to the climate of the Baikal by winds: barguzin, sarma, verkhovik, kultuk. It is a common thinking that the Baikal is best for visit in July, when temperatures and winds reach favorable condition. The water in summer is cold, normally +8..+9C and can reach +15C in bays. It's so pellucid that one can see the bottom 40m down.
The Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian Railway both reach Lake Baikal. The closest miles to Irkutsk follow serpantine pattern as the train curves around the shoreline, which is scenic and worth riding in day light.
Buses leave from Irkutsk station throughout the day. The ride is about an hour and a half, with several stops along the way, and ends in the small town of Listvyanka, at the shores of the lake.
From Listvyanka you can go by boat to the Bolshoie Koty, in the hearth of Baykal national park. One way costs 180 rubles, but you cannot buy tickets in advance (only in Irkutsk, I think). First boat goes from Listvyanka at 10, last at 16 o'clock. From there you can get by boat at 18.00 or by foot by Baykal tourist trail. It is around 18 kilometres and the most of the path goes around the shore of a lake. From Bolshoie Koty you can go to the Irkutsk by the same boat. It costs 360 rubles (summer 2008).
In the winter there is an ice road from Listvyanka to Bolshoie Koty.
From Listvyanka you can go to the Port Baykal that lies on the opposite side of river Angara. Boat costs 56 rubles (summer 2012) and goes from the place just under the Baykal limnological museum. It takes around 5 minutes to get there. However it is recommended to go the other way, from Port Baykal to Listvyanka.
To Port Baykal you can go by train as well. Remaining part of old Circum-Baikal Railway line goes from Sludyanka at the southern corner of the lake. It takes around 4 to 6 hours, since the train is really slow. But you have time to look around, because the railway is going by the shore of the lake. It costs 46 rubles. It is so slow because it is the old Baykal railroad was built around 100 years ago.
In Irkutsk Oblast (west of the lake)
In Buryatia (east of the lake)
Take part in yearly cross-country six-day race TransBaikal-20xx in July. Hovering 465km and the dislevello 10,060m it starts in Buguldeyka village takes two-days turn to Olkhon and ends in Yelantsy down south. In 2011 the competition begins on 16, July. Registration of cycle teams until 31, May. .
Souvenirs are sold near the omul sellers (see below), and tend to be cheaper than in other Russian cities. There are several boats at the main dock who take on tourists when not fishing. The prices are negotiable, try to find other tourists who want to ride and get cheaper prices by being in a large group. Sometimes a kid with broken English acts as an intermediary for the price haggling.
The smoked Omul sold by several fish sellers on the edge of the lake is wonderful, and there is a restaurant on the lake's edge with good fish, along with several bars and small groceries. Everything in Listvyanka is within walking distance, including a small post office.
Baikal water is drinkable and almost distilled as the amount of mineral salts is infinitesimal.
You may stay in Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude, make a day trip to the lake and get back.
'Rest bases' of the Baikal are Russian type of countryside wooden houses with facilities offering excursions to the local sights. They often are located in villages or nearby.