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Baikal, Lake of Mists

June 2004

    Nine years ago I posted here a story describing empty roads of Karelia, an area far north from Moscow. Since then, the stories here were essentially urban, telling about either cities or their suburbs. Mostly, about Moscow, of course, but occasionally I was adding St. Petersburg, Kiev, Minsk, Novosibirsk, and even Stockholm.

    Well, this project is about Moscow Life, as its name declares, so what's wrong about urban stories? Nothing — but the life of a Muscovite usually takes him or her now and then to places across Russia. And the letters I get from the readers also suggest that they would sometimes like to see more of famous Russian wilderness, virgin nature, etc... Okay, here we go — this page is about Lake Baikal, one of Russian wonders deserving much more attention and fame than it receives.

Keeping the ship on course

    Let the captain of an old and noisy boat take us through the mists to the safe and silent place lost on the shores of Baikal tens of miles from any other civilization. An old-fashioned compass is his only guide in the deep waters of the lake, so we'll crawl along the banks to keep them in sight. Look at the steering wheel on the left, we'll depend on it.

    But actually, I'd better start from the beginning of the story...

As always in my stories here, you can zoom in on any picture. Just click on an image and a larger and better quality photo will open. Many of the photos are worth looking at in postcard size.

Fountain in downtown Irkutsk Freshly restored churches are typical for all Russia Angara river in Irkutsk

A monument to Yuri Gagarin, first cosmonaut. Looks a littel bit weird.
   It takes 5 1/2 hours on the jet plane to get the 20-million years old lake from Moscow. The words "Eastern Siberia" sound exciting, and you have a chance to enjoy the thought of them all the flight: Russian airlines which fly from Moscow to Irkutsk do not offer movies or music on board. But before getting unhappy, think about pre-aviation time. On train, it takes 100 hours to get here… Four days on the train may be fun of course — for certain very rare types.

   Well, al last you cross 5 time zones and land in the airport of the city that boasts population of 600 000, several universities, 6 theaters and quite a few interesting buildings (many of them decaying, alas). If you are on vacation, then, of course, Irkutsk deserves a few days of your attention. But I was there on a business trip, so all the time in the city was spent in the conference rooms. A few pictures above do not show Irkutsk in its best. But my goal for the weekend was not another city — but the lake 40 miles from it.

Waterfoil speeds upstream Angara river Listvyanka greets with smoked fish and stone souvenirs It goes north on Baikal, our ways part here

Rain over Listvyanka
Mists start to float on Angara
   There is a fairly good highway from Irkutsk to Listvyanka, a small city on the bank of Baikal, where one can rent a boat to continue a journey to quiet locations. But there is another way, much more pleasant even if noisy. A waterfoil boat can take you on Angara river (which flows from Baikal) from Irkutsk to Listvyanka.

   Thanks to our hosts, they selected this water route. On the way we started to feel in real Siberia: wild ducks, milky mists, ranges of dark green hills and chilly breathing of the lake ahead which is so deep and transparent, that sun fails to warm it up even in summer.

   In Listvyanka, it was raining, we left the waterfoil boat that continued it's course to the north on Baikal. A smaller and slow boat began its route south through the mists that were dancing around and getting thicker by the minute.

Fog playing hide-and seek with the sunshine Smoking banks of Baikal When mist temporarily disappears

   The magic of mists perhaps is worth a separate story, but not this time. Still, here are a few more photos taken during this enchanting trip through mists of Baikal...

More of misty magic Optics of mists Milky way, Baikal version

The other bank, 40 miles away
It's nice to have solid and heavy objects in the foreground
   Fortunately, the mist is not stable and keeps changing all the time: changing itself and the landscape. Lighting is different every minutes and with it the mood of the scenery shifts from dark and gloomy to joyful and bright. And all the way back. And again...

   Sometimes everything clears up, and then you see the other bank of the lake, almost 40 miles away. Something in the view reminds me of Yellowstone Lake, but the scale here is quite different. Still, they may become good friends if ever learn how to be pen-pals. There is something similar in their cold depths, in the rivers they feed...

Beer goes well with the scenery The fog is like a cat, arching its back in pleasure Here is the destination

   After a few slow but fabulous hours we arrived to the spot. A small hotel, almost literally in the middle of nowhere. Everything is tidy, clean and smelling of fresh wood. And - unearthy silence around, even birds cannot break it with their songs.

A view from the cape where we stay From the shore the mist is also magical Baikal may be of different colors
   On the banks of the lake we found not only virgin forests, but also a few steam engines, spirits of the old railroads in real iron flesh.

Steam engine from the middle of last century Looks impressive and historic Inside the cabin of the old steam engine

   And then - we kept enjoying different visuals of silence. The warm evening lights in the house - the only one for quite a few kilometers. Mirror images in the lake in the morning - and lots of other views that we did not take photos of.

Warm light of home - even if a temporary one Baikal on a grey morning Clouds over distant mountains across the lake

Rails run along Baikal shore
   Alas, a weekend is not enough to look at all the beautiful places around. Moreover, Baikal like any lake keeps changing all the time, so one can simply sit quietly and look at the same direction. The view will roll out like a personal story, endlessly and majestically.

   But we live in a real world where the tickets for the flight back home are in our pockets, and the date on them cannot be changed. So, early in the Sunday afternoon? After a short walk along the rails, we started back. Actually, just in time - because the new storm and pouring rain were approaching fast from the south.

One more look at Baikal: this time, in the sunshine Fleeing from the storm Oriental Express runs through the magic land

   But while we were fleeing from the storm, the views were gorgeous: and we even had to occasionally move the files from the cards of our cameras to one of the notebooks: even large memory quickly gets full when you have these pictures to take.

Endemic species of Baikal: local shrimp Almost Mediterranian view moving files on the deck

   That's almost it. The sun did not last long - when we came closer to Listvyanka, the gap between the hills where Angara starts, was closed by a heavy curtain of a thunderstorm. For a few hours we felt like inside a giant washing machine. Only late in the evening, before we left Irkutsk, we got another gorgeous view, Angara at sunset.

Thunderstorm above Angara There are many bikers in Irkutsk Angara at sunset

   Well, enough of Siberia for one story. Meet you on these pages next time!

Andrey - asebrant@online.ru

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