Lake Baikal Beckons

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The frozen Lake Baikal

The frozen Lake Baikal

One of the most breath-taking natural freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Baikal is also one of the deepest, largest and oldest lakes in the world and serves as the easily identifiable landmark for Siberia. Lake Baikal contains 1/5th of the world’s freshwater supply and supports a plethora of flora and fauna many of which are native to this region – including the popular Omul fish, which much like the trout is commercially fished in these waters, and the Baikal Seal (Nerpa) the only freshwater seal in the world and a native of the Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal is easily accessible from the nearby village of Listvyanka, which is only at an hour’s drive from Irkutsk. The village is known for its traditional wooden and stone architecture and the Siberian baroque St. Nicholas Church.

A part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, Lake Baikal attracts thousands of visitors all the year round, but the real action starts in winter when the surface of the freshwater lake freezes and transforms itself into a haven for a diverse number of winter sports. With snow blanketing the taiga wood surroundings the settings are near perfect for a fantastic day out.

56th Parallel started the ‘Walk on Water’ tour which showcases the best that the regions of Irkutsk and Listvyanka has to offer, offering guests an unforgettable experience of an UNESCO World Heritage site. In this tour guests can truly immerse themselves and discover why Lake Baikal is such a unique experience.

You can begin your journey from Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia with a population of over half a million. Upon arrival in Irkutsk spend a day strolling the city’s beautifully paved streets, soaking in the sights and sound, visiting the old cathedrals, museums and other places that the city is famous for. You would be happy to know that Irkutsk was one of the winners of the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice 2013 Awards.

Upon arrival at Baikal you could opt for an adventurous 4WD Jeep ride to Olkhon, across the icy terrain and steppes of Siberia. Olkhon is a treasure trove for cave-hunters. It has a number of island caves that can be explored to discover a completely unknown side of Siberia. Deep within the heart of Olkhon there is a mystical cave that contains ancient paintings by humans. This mesmerizing gallery can be accessed via the famous Tazheran steppes caves.

You can also observe ancient Buddhist traditions come alive on these island and see the holy Buddhist stupa at Ogoy Island before calling it a day and tucking in at one of the shore camps of lake Baikal. The following day guests will be taken on a guided tour of the other important places of Lake Baikal including Cape Shaman, Cape Sagan Khushun and of course Cape Khoboy. Discover some of the most breath-taking photographic points of Lake Baikal and immerse yourself in the vastness of it. Although the entire tour offers a number of excellent photographic moments, this segment easily offers the best moments for landscape photographers.

The tour also offers an opportunity to discover ancient Siberian culture and know more about its history. Take a trip down the long and winding lanes of history and arrive in the 17th century Siberia at the Taltsy open-air museum. The museum showcases more than 40 architectural monuments and thousands of artefacts unearthed from across Siberia making it one of the finest collection of ancient Siberian culture, art and architecture.

Guests can take their time exploring the banks of Baikal at their own pace. For those who are slightly more adventurous, a hovercraft ride across the ice of Peschanaya Bay, past the mysterious pyramid shaped cliffs over the lake is going to be a thrilling experience. Other activities that you can indulge in include racing on a snowmobile on the southern shores of the lake towards the Circum-Baikal Railway and or dog-sledding through the taiga woods accompanied by an experienced team of Siberian Huskies.

The final day of your stay at Baikal will no doubt be the highlight of the tour and an unforgettable experience. You will go for ice-rafting on ice cut from the surface of the Lake Baikal. The course will lead you to the legendary Shaman stone that separates Baikal and Angara. You will be served mulled wine and an assortment of chocolate and cheeses before taking a final dip in a Siberian sauna and heading for home.

About Author

Rory Mukherjee

Rory Mukherjee is a freelance article writer specialising in digital photography and travel related topics.He is also an avid traveller who loves to document his travels in his articles and through his lenses.Rory currently contributes the latest travel news to YouTravel.com.au and hope to expand his travel prowess in the not too distant future.