Olkhon (Russian: Ольхо́н ahl'-KHOHN) is by far the largest island in Lake Baikal, and one of the real jewels of Siberia. With it's amazing — and amazingly diverse — landscape, and a vibrant culture even the Soviet's couldn't quite suppress — this island practically begs for a spot on your Siberian itinerary.
There are also several smaller villages: Listed from north to south: Usuri, Pescanaja, Chalgaj, Charancy, Khuzir (main village), Mal. Khuzhir (little Khuzir), Jalga.
The island has an area of 730 sq. km (282 sq. miles) and is inhabited by around 1,500 Buryats. It is a center of local shamanism and features many holy sites.
The islands small population mainly consists of Buryats, a northern Mongol population group, and one of the largest minorities in Russia. Buryat is a independent language but closely related to Mongolian (and like in Mongolia, Cyrillic script is used for orthography), but as everywhere in Russia — despite the independent minded, and somewhat secluded population — Soviet centralism prevailed, and Russian is universally spoken.
As Olkhon is an island, it is usually necessary to take a ferry from the pier in Sakhyurta, more commonly known as the MRS. As of summer 2012, the ferry ride is free for pedestrians and cost 100 RUB of tax to randomly picked cars (that also go on the ferry). For public transports, it is free. During the winter, though, the ice gets too thick for the ferry to run. Instead, buses resort to taking an ice road across the narrow channel. The island used the be cut-off when the ice was too thin (mid-April till June, and around January) but a hovercraft runs (free for locals, 250 RUB for others). To make sure to get the hovercraft, you should better sit in a public transport.
Minibuses and normal buses ply the 250-kilometre (160-mile) route from Irkutsk (five to eight hours) for around 500-600 RUB. You might have to pay a bit extra for big luggage. Normally the two major hostels in Irkutsk arrange minibuses to Khuzhir almost every day in season, and it is worth noting that in the early season, this is probably your best bet, since buses do not begin to run until late May or June, even though the ferry starts running in early May.
Getting by car or Hitchhiking from Irkutsk to Olkhon is also possible. the road is named P418 and goes north for about 120K and then makes a sharp right turn at the village of Bayandai. from there it is about 60 KM until a left turn at Tirgan. after that it's about 60 KM more to the ferry station. There is now asphalt till the ferry station. On the island there is no asphalt.
The island has a 65-70KM main road that goes along the north part by the direction of north-east. other then this road there are many roads leading to the forest and stepper grounds. You can rent bicycles and go on tours by boat, and of course you can walk around and sleep in tents, which you can also rent.
There is a popular beach just past the Shamans Rock, north to the main village, and many more along the north coast of the island. Some of these have warmer waters due to their shape and so they make a great place to camp and swim. On the far north eastern side of the island there are dramatic cliffs and the famous "Choboi Cape" from which it is possible to spot some seales. 15Km south of Khuzher towards the forest there is Sahara lake, which is a salty lake also good for camping. it is also possible to rent a kayak from guesthouses in Khuzher.
Because there are no water pipes, showers aren't available in private households. as an alternative there is the Russian banja (a steam sauna room), but be careful with the extremely hot water.
«Visiting shamans». International annual meeting of shamans passes on Olkhon island in the beginning of August. Shamans ask «spirits» of Baikal protection, and bring sacrifices to gods. It is very interesting and mystical event especially for lovers of ancient history. Booking accommodation by e-mail [email protected]
In Khuzhir, There are several little "restaurants", more like bistros. it is also possible to buy groceries (including raw meat and fish) for preparing camping food or BBQ. There are something in the range of five little supermarkets. The biggest one is at northern end of the middle of wide dusty main street, after the odd looking soviet war memorial. It looks closed all of the time, but isn't. in the season they all seem to close around 8PM-9PM
On the main road of Khuzhir, and also next to ferry station, there are several souvenir shops that sell Buryat orientated ornaments. Buddhist artifacts, dolls, clothes and also music CD's and instruments. Some shops also sell postcards, statues and many more.
Beer, Vodka and other alcoholic beverages can be bought at the supermarket. There is also somewhat of a bar in Khuzher.
Many people come to Olkhon island for the camping spots. it is common to see some tents even in the main village. the operator of the village church in Khuzhir, Sergey, often gives campers a place near the church, but you need to ask him before. In session many backpackers are seen around the church, volunteering to build a floor for backpackers just near by.
On coming by bus, there will probably be a lot of "babushkas" (Russian grandmothers) waiting at the bus stop. You can rent a room at their houses and sometimes you also get dinner and breakfast (250 rub per person in 2007, including meals).
Guesthouses In Khuzher
The most economic accommodation on Olkhon island is summer houses with a kitchen. Food isn’t included. Price 400 rub/person/night Reservation: [email protected]
In the center of the village, find the supermarket ("gastronom"). In front of it you have minibuses (marshrutkas) to Irkutsk. Better go there in the morning to check up possibilities. Usually guesthouses also organize transport to Irkutsk for almost the same price. In July and August you can take a fast ship to Ust Barguzin (about 2000 RUB). It leaves on Mondays at 5pm (2012). During the high season there might be other possibilities but you need to be on site to make sure about it.