Magnificent Lake Baikal is the deepest
fresh water lake isolated from human activity. It is the main reason why
ecology of the lake is in good condition. Attempts to build factories were
recently prohibited on a federal level. The lake shore is virtually
uninhibited by man. Aside few nomadic tribes and local villages only handful
of tourist bases were constructed here. That leaves plenty of room for
backcountry camping that doesn't conflict with endemic species of the lake.
Origins of the Name
It is hard to pinpoint the origin of the name Baikal.
It might have come from Chinese language (北海 Běihǎi) that can
be translated as the "North Sea". Some believe that Yakut native
tribes gave this body of water its name. In Yakut dialect Bayg'al
means "Deep Lake". Mongols called it Baygaal- Dalay or "Natural
Lake". Additionally some claimed that might have come from Turkic
Bay- Kul' or "Rich Lake". Russian explorers who settled shores of
Baikal in the 17th century called it "Lamy" or "Sea" in Evenk
Nature of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is inhabited by over 2600 species of
aquatic animals, birds, invertebrates and other organisms. Over 1000
of species are endemic this body of water and found nowhere else.
Water here is rich in oxygen and that allows life proliferation on
various levels. The base of ecosystem is a small crustacean epishura
(Epischura baikalensis) that is endemic to the lake. They make about
80% biomass of all zooplankton in the lake and serve as an important
line in the food chain. It allows proliferation of several species
of fish including whitefish, Baikal Sturgeon (Acipenser baeri
baicalensis), pike, trout and many others.
One of the most unusual fishes that live here is
viviparous golomyanka or Baikal oil fish (Comephorus baicalensis).
Its body is made of 30% of fat, which allows it to survive at
extremes depths. They are most commonly found at a depth of 650-
1600 feet (200- 500 meters) below water surface. Interestingly they
don't resort to deep layers of the lake. Fishing is legal here and
smoked fish on fire is considered a delicacy among tourists. It
makes trips to the upper layers and returns back to the abyss daily.
Lake Baikal is also famous with divers for its fresh water reefs
that contains fresh water sponges, turbellarian worms, various
amphipod crustaceans and many others.
Hiking around Lake Baikal
Great Baikal Trail
Great Baikal Trails or GBT (Большая
Байкальская Тропа ББТ) is a project to create a network of
hiking trails around Lake Baikal and Baikal region. The work on
Great Baikal hiking trail began in 2003. The expectant total length
will be 1800 km. It will run through three national parks and three
nature reserves. The work is not complete, but several hiking trails
were created by volunteers from around the region and all of Russiaas well as the World. Every summer tourists come here to
explore shores of the lake and create hiking trails for future
Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track
Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track or simply F.A.C.T.
is a trail along Bay of Frolikha in the North part of Lake Baikal.
It measures at the total length of 100 km. It was constructed with
funds issues by German private companies and Russian government.
Large portion of the hiking trail lies along Frolikha river. Old
paths of local hunters became the base of Frolikha Track. Keep in
mind that Frolikha Coastline Track has few accommodations and most
of human settlements are at some distance away. Venturing here
requires a lot of experience and stamina.
Shaman Rock or Burhan Rock is a cape in the western
coast of Olkhon Island in central Lake Baikal region. It is situated
within boundaries of Baikal National Park. The closest human
settlement to this location is a village Huzhir with a population of
just 1300 residents. Currently Cape Shaman or Rock Shaman has a
status of a state natural site and a historic monument.
Shamanic cave was one of the most revered holy places
on the lake. Archaeological digs on the site showed that humans
settled here 7000 years ago. They left tools, weapons and even
drawings that are still visible on rock. Scientists discovered
pottery fragments, bronze, gold, iron artefacts, ax made of jade,
arrowheads and other items dating to Neolithic and Bronze Ages
(5000- 2000 BC) The cave in the Shaman Rock
eventually became a religious site where pagan shamans of local
tribes carried out sacrifices, prayed to their gods and meditated.
Only shamans were allowed to enter the actual cave, dwelling of the
spirit of the Lake Baikal. Most respected religious and political
figures were burned and buried at the entrance of the cave.
Local Buryat shamans claim that great Mongol general
and leader Genghis Khan visited Lake Baikal. He crossed the lake
across the land bridge that allegedly existed across middle part of
this body of water. His army soon followed. But then great general
made a mistake. He entered the cave on Shaman rock and thus
seriously pissed off local deities. They sent great waves to destroy
the bridge and the large portion of the Mongol army along with the
crossing was swallowed by the lake. Olkhon Island it is claimed was
the very Western tip of this land bridge. The only reason it stayed
above water was because it was home to watery gods. The legend was
probably born due to natural shape of the lake that does bear
resemblance of a destroyed bridge across body of water.
First accounts of local traditions and superstitions
were recorded when
Russian explorers first visited this part of lake Baikal.
"...but the most remarkable superstitious
fear that Buryat (native tribe) experience is that of sacrifices and
vows that were given near this (Shaman) cliff. Buryats did not
bring more victims as they do at this white marble rock. Many
legends have originated here".
It is probably important to note that these "victims"
were mostly animals, but on few occasions humans could do the trick
in order to appease gods of the lake. Another famoust Russian
traveller and explorer V.A. Obruchev describes this rock.
"But the most remarkable superstitious feat is
that Olkhon (island) Buryats feel for the cave. You can't pass this
cave on wheels on a cart. Only on horseback or on a sleigh. That is
why in the summer time communication between the Western and Eastern
parts of Olkhon is made only horseback and then only rare cases, as
the Buryats are generally reluctant to go pass the cave.
Additionally in the event any member of the clan have died recently,
members of the family were not allowed to pass the cave for a
certain time period. For this reason my guide from Dolon- Argun
brought me to Khuzir and returned back unwilling to accompany me
further. I came back with a baptized (Christian) Buryat and we
travelled pass the cave. On another trip another guide refused to
pass the cave again."
The second name of Burhan Rock appeared somewhere
around 17th century when Tibetan Buddhist missionaries made their
way to South Russia. Their religion didn't entirely replace local
pagan religions. Instead Buddhism here took more polytheistic
beliefs. Buryat Buddhists believed that the spirit of Lake Baikal
god Burhan lived in the cave that was formed in this rock.
Unfortunately Buddhist llamas or spiritual leaders cleaned the cave
upon their arrival. They even removed top layers of soil from the
underground cavity in order to purify the house of their deity. That
certainly created headache for archaeologists that explored Shaman
Rock in the 20th century. We only have bits of information about
this interesting natural, historic and religious site of local
Bay or Chyvyrkuyskyy Bay is the second largest bay on the
Lake Baikal. It is located in the central east coast of Lake
Baikal in Trans- Baikal National Park. It covers a total area of 300 sq km. Its length is
26 km and width 12 km in its widest part. Chivyrkuisky Bay and Big Chivyrkuy river that flows here get their
name from native Evenk word that can be translated as
"wriggle" or "move".
This part of
Lake Baikal is not very deep. It averages at 10 meters or 33
feet so the water temperature here can reach 24 °C. It is
one of the warmest places on the lake and fairly acceptable
for swimming. The area around Chivyrkuisky Bay is scarcely
settled. Villages Katun, Kurbulik and Monakhovo are only
human settlements. The only way to get there is by taking a
ferry in Ust- Barguzin which runs from May to November. In
winter months ice crossing is functioning.
believe that peninsula that borders Chivyrkuisky Bay
on the south and west once stretched across the whole lake. It was used by armies
of infamous Mongol leader Genghis Khan to cross the lake
Baikal. General angered spirits of the lake and land bridge
fell into Baikal swallowing part of his army.
Cape is situated in the North Part of Baikal not far from a
village Baykalsky. Ludar Cape is popular for its surf wave
that was formed from natural erosion. Archaeological digs in
Ludar Cape yielded fragments of pottery dating to Kurykansky
period (5- 11 centuries). Additionally a human settlement
dating to 2000 BC was discovered here. You can climb the top
of the mountain that stands on Ludar cape. It contains
remnants of a wall that measures 0.5 meters (2 feet)
enclosing an area of 3-4 square meters. It offers a great
view of Lake Baikal.