Lake Baikal is a lake in Eastern Siberia, Russia. It is the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world,containing over one fifth of the world's supply, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The origins of the name are unknown, but several hypotheses are these : deep water (Yakut), rich lake (Turkic), rich fire (Mongolian), northern sea(Chinese). Russians sometimes call the lake Baikal sea because of its size.
Lake Baikal is rich in biodiversity. It hosts more than 1 000 species of plants and 2 500 species of animals based on current knowledge, but the actual figures for both groups are believed to be significantly higher. More than 80% of the animals are endemic. The Baikal seal or nerpa (Pusa Sibirica) is found throughout Lake Baikal. It is one of only three entirely freshwater seal populations in the world, the other two being subspecies of ringed seals. The watershed of Lake Baikal has numerous floral species represented. The marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre, is found here at the eastern limit of its geographic range.
Lake Baikal which is often called the Well of the Planet or the Pearl of Siberia is one of the world’s renowned wonders attracting thousands of tourists. With its pure water, unique nature, abundant flora and fauna and original culture of the indigenous peoples Baikal has become one of the top tourist destinations both in Russia and the world. The vast water expanses and variety of landscapes can satisfy different travelers.
Listvjanka village and Angara river source
The closest and easy-available way to visit Baikal lake if you are short in time. It takes about 40 minutes of drive over paved road to get to Listvjanka village of the shore of Baikal lake. Here you can visit Baikal nature museum which has a rich flore and fauna collection of the deepest lake in the world. For it`s majesty and fascinating glory, the lake is called the Sacred Sea by locals. The only river which flows out of the Baikal is his daughter - Angara which brings its waters to Irkutsk and further to Enisey River. In the middle of Angara source there is the Shaman`s Rock which according to the local legends has some magic power and blocks the entrance to the undeground spirit world.
Circum-Baikal railroad (Historical branch of Transsib)
The Circum-Baikal line used to be a part of Transsiberian Railroad which joined two great branches - Eastern and Western rail lines, disconnected by Baikal lake. It was called the "Golden Buckle of Russia`s steel belt" due to the transcendental cost of the construction. The shoreline landscape which is mostly represented by high rocky cliffs and walls made a great difficulty for construction of this railroad. One kilometer of the track required 400 train cars of soil, which is comparable with the volume of work on the Suez Canal. One kilometer needed about one train car of explosives. There are lots of bridges, tonnels, galeries and other constructions on this railroad. For the whole length of Circum-Baikal line (less than 100 km) 39 tunnels were built, with a total length of 8994 meters.
For the present moment this part of Transsib is not included into general railroad line and it became an open air museum. The road starts from the dead end in Port Baikal (small settlement across Listvyanka village), goes along the picturesque southern shore of Baikal lake and joins the main Transsib line in Sludjanka city. It`s possible to have one-day circle trip by excursional train through the Circum-Baikal line.
Biggest island of Baikal lake - Olkhon
Olkhon island has the biggest amount of sunny days per year - so it`s called the Sunny Island! It has the richest variety of Baikal landscapes which are gathered in one island in the heart of Baikal lake. You can find sandy beaches, georgeous cliffs, deep Taiga forest, vast steppes and even a small desert which are closely combined. Olkhon itself resembles the shape of the lake and is considered to be the sacred center of Baikal.
Sayan mountains and Tunka valley
Sayanas is a huge mountain country which occupies a vast area on the southern side of Baikal lake. On the way there the road passes the southern corner of Baikal lake where you can stop for lunch at the cafe admiring the beautiful view of the lake. Further the road turns directly to the south and through the pass in the Taiga forest brings us to the Tunka valley. Along the road you`ll see the vast steppes surrounded by snow-covered rocky ridge of Sayan mountains.
Tunka valley is famous not only for its mineral and thermal springs, but also for deep and mysterious canyon of the Kyngarga river with very close and accessible mountain peaks and huge icefalls, which give a lot of opportunities for ice-climbing. Besides, there are lots of cultural sights of local natives - Buryats, such as Buddhist temples and shamans praying places. Both religions - Buddhism and Shamanism - are closely combined here in a specific way.
Southern Baikal & Hamar-Daban mountains
The ridge of Hamar-Daban stretches for the distance over 250 km along the southern shore of Baikal lake. These mountains are one of the oldest in the world which makes its landsape quite smooth and deep woody. This place gets the biggest amount of precipitation in the whole Baikal region because of its geographical position. In winter there is much snow and sometimes its depth can reach 2.5 meters! The only way to travel there in winter is specially prepared wide hunting skies. If you want to experience what a real Siberian wintry Taiga forest is - you should definately come here!
In summer this area is really great for hiking, mountain biking and canoeing. Taiga forest is full of wild berries and mushrooms which grow along the mountain streams and lakes with crystal clear waters. Local rivers have lots of waterfalls which gives you a nice opportunity for taking memorable pictures!