Beautiful Baikal

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Russian Federation  , Siberia,
Thursday, November 26, 2009

Irkutsk, as the closest city to it, is the gateway to Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal. To put this into a Siberian context, 'close' means a bumpy 7 hour mini bus and ferry ride away. So a bit like how the Isle of Wight is close to Manchester...

But of course it was worth it.

Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world and contains almost a fifth of the world's freshwater. Over a mile deep, and apparently the sediment of all the decomposed stuff under the water goes down for a further mile and a half! The omul fish we had for every meal is one of
the 1200 species unique to the lake. Shame, as it's very very tasty.

Olkhon island itself lies in the centre of the lake. It's Buryat name means 'little forest'. It's 71km long and 15m wide with under 1500 inhabitants. Most of them live in the southern Khuzhir settlement, which is where our hostel, Nikita's Homestead, was. Nikita who runs the hostel is the 1986 Russian table tennis champion. He has his kids up at 6am training now too.

We arrived there at around 4pm and they organised a delicious late lunch of vegetable soup and fried 'omul' - the local fish - for us which was gulped down almost as soon as it landed on the table. The hostel is big - with capacity for 300 people, but as it's low season we were 2 of the only 5 guests there!

Fortunately that meant no queue for the 'banya' - russian sauna - so after settling in and drinking plenty of tea (i'd not drunk anything all day for fear of needing a wee en route and we were both a little dehydrated owing to the previous evening's vodka-inspired shenanigans...) we had a good clean up in the banya.

On Wednesday we went on a trip to the northern, and most picturesque end of the island. That end is prettymuch untouched, made up of just dense taiga and barren scrubland. All really beautiful when under a layer of thick snow.

Maloye More Strait, or 'small sea' as they call it, has a beautiful shoreline made up of 'steppes' taiga and small bays, and you can see from one side of it to the mountains on the other, in contrast with 'Big Baikal' which is vast and looks like it goes on forever.

We had a packed lunch of more delicious omul with pototoes and hot tea - just what the doctor ordered - in the van overlooking the northern tip of the island, and Mount Zhima, the tallest mountain on the island, then headed back to the hostel where we drank more tea to warm up again until banya and dinner time.

After dinner Nikita lent us the keys to the table tennis room, which was great as after you've seen the island, eaten, banya'd, read all your books and drank more tea than you can physically stomach there's not a lot else to do on the island.

After all that fresh air we hit the sack early and had one of the best night's sleeps so far. Off to Ulan Ude in the morning - last stop in Siberia before heading to Mongolia.

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Loli Charnock on

Gua! so beautiful!! Me encanta como escribes!! Gracias mil, no sabes las ansias con las que espero tus blog y tus emails ahorita te escriboxxx

timcharnock on

Wow. what stunning pictures. Hannah, time to insist the chap travelling with you removes that hideous face fuzz; or dump him.

Michael on

I so agree with you, Tim, on the face fuzz!!! He'll be sporting a duelling scar next!! Absolutely love the photos, too, especially the sunsets - magical. Looking forward to next instalment. Love Dad & Mum

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