The Natural Wonders of Northern Baikal

One of the most unusual ecosystems up here in northern Baikal is our island chain known as the Yarki (or Bright) Islands.  The main island here is rather narrow, measuring 10 miles in length and only 500 feet across.  It is a sandy crescent that acts like a barrier island for the clear-blue bay behind it.  Facing the island on the mainland is the flower-strewn river deltas of the Upper Angara and Cold Rivers.  Cross these rivers and a whole new natural habitat awaits you.

On Yarki Island you begin to feel that the myths about this place are quite true.  There’s feeling of strength here, as if you are standing in the middle of the universe, while on both sides you can here the rustle of the waves hitting the shore.  The short summer nights usually begin with (what seem like) never-ending sunsets, with their lovely array of colours that might come out of some fantasy book.  But sure enough, soon after the sun sets over the distant western Baikal mountains, the first signs of light appear over the Barguzin Mountains to the east.  Although the word Yarki means bright in Russian, the origin of the name comes from local native language (Yar = a high place above others).   But we still feel justified in calling this Bright Island, simply because of all the bright and clear impressions that the island leaves you with.

Further away from the lake, you can climb and conquer some of the mountain heights that surround Baikal.  From atop these peaks you can breathe in some of the most stunning and majestic panoramic views of our region.  Of course, our Icon Mountain is not as high as Everest.  Still you can take in so much at once atop this mountain ridge.

Amongst all the clutter of cliffs and rock promontories here, a jewel of an alpine lake has been carved out by prehistoric glaciers.  In fact, there are many such lakes in the region, each beckoning you with its deep, calm waters.  These lakes often spawn small streams, that grow into rivers, that flow into the crystal waters of Lake Baikal.  If you can picture the entire lake as a kind of water-pitcher, then the neck would extend upwards and northwards into the waters of the Upper Angara and the various sister rivers that stream into the lake from all directions.  As all these rivers empty into Baikal, we realize that the water ultimately leaves Baikal through only one exit-river, the Lower Angara, which goes on to collide with the mighty Yenisei, before it ends its long journey in the Arctic Ocean.

These cold streams often intersect with water from local hot springs, which causes quite a contrast in temperatures, especially in winter.  Sometimes the winter weather gets down to -30 degrees, while the water in the hot springs remains at around +110 degrees.  It is a particularly odd treat to be sitting in one of these hot springs surrounded by ancient pine trees that are weighed down by snow and ice.  It offers quite an unforgettable spectacle.  These healing hot springs have attracted people from all over the region for centuries.  What a fine combination, the clear waters of Baikal, and these nearby hot springs to boot!

The indigenous culture here is quite unique.  For example, the local Evenk people still engage in reindeer herding, and often rely on the hunt to put food on the table.  They have managed to preserve their old traditions and rituals, even though the first Russians showed up in Siberia over 300 years ago.  And the more prevalent Buryat culture also gives our region a more colourful depth.

So in some ways one of the main attractions of the north here is the people, hardy souls who live in a climate of extremes (but who show care towards their environment).  They have stayed connected with their own self-contained history; and yet they are very open to receiving guests from abroad,, and are equally happy to show visitors all the beauty and uniqueness of their own region.

Believe you me, this part of Baikal will leave you pleasantly surprised.  It will also leave you with some unforgettable impressions of your travels here.  In an age of cell phones and virtual reality, here in north Baikal you can still feel what it’s like to live as our indigenous grandparents did centuries ago.  You also might feel in awe of how small we are as humans in this all-encompassing cosmos of ours.  At the same time you can discover within yourself something new and unexpected.  Or perhaps you are one of those who will feel wrenching pangs when thinking of how truly unique and vulnerable our world really is.  After all, this may be a world that is pierced by the Evenk and Buryat people’s rather surprising belief that both man and nature are all but one, inseparable being.

Фото К. Селезневой

So, if it happens that you’re not looking for any unnecessary adrenaline rushes during your travels, then perhaps you’ll find that a trip to north Baikal will offer you the peaceful, healing time that you deserve.  The gentle lapping of the waves here, the invigorating hot springs, and the total lack of hustle and bustle will all help you as you try to catch up with your own life.  What’s more, you will be living here amongst all the legends and traditions and all those secret treasures of the Siberian outback.  Don’t get us wrong—you won’t be falling asleep here (although you WILL probably sleep soundly every night you’re with us)!  The vivid colours of our region alone will keep you wide awake.  The Baikal scenery will certainly have an indelible impact on you, much larger than the impact that you will exert on the land yourself.  The wide expanses of our lake and the surrounding taiga will make you want to return again and again, so that you can learn more about this land that is a world separate unto itself.

You will find that Baikal is rather like the Giaconda’s inscrutable smile, both in its shape and in its mysterious nature.  Or maybe you can look at our lake and see a giant horseshoe that has been straightened out.   In either case, Baikal will give you luck; and we hope that you will bring luck with you too.  It’s easy to open your heart to Baikal. Come and see what we mean!


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