Lake Baikal Review
Lake Baikal is the largest, oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, with a plunging depth of 1,637m and contains one fifth of the world’s supply. Located just 70km from Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia, this quaint town would thrive in the summer with the population no doubt swelling from its base level of just 2,000 thanks to an influx of tourists, but my visit was a sleepy contrast to this.
I arrived into Irkutsk for my second stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway early on Monday morning (2 December) and was quickly taken out to Lake Baikal for my first Russian experience.
Three nights at Lake Baikal and one afternoon in Irkutsk provided more than ample time to enjoy the sites and take in the scenery, which included hiking, visiting memorials and statues, snowball fights and sampling the local cuisine.
No trip to Siberia in winter is complete without a Siberian Husky Dog Sledding adventure through the snow, and this was by far the highlight of my time out at Lake Baikal. Granted it is purely aimed at tourists, I was still excited at the prospect and was first towed by seven canines in a seated position before taking the reins and ‘driving’ the sled. The speed at which the dogs were able to generate and their obedience was quite remarkable and I would highly recommend doing this, especially for the photos!
The Five Senses of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal looks like a sea. Lake Baikal’s enormity and at times strong swell gave me the overwhelming sense that I was looking at a large sea from the various vantage points that I took it in from.
Lake Baikal smells like fish. To be more specific, Lake Baikal smells like Omul, a specialty of the region. This fish is smoked and sold at most restaurants and markets in and around Lake Baikal. It went quite well with a side of chips!
Lake Baikal feels like black ice. I’ve experienced snow and icy conditions before but never have I had to watch the path I took as much as I had to during my time at Lake Baikal. Black ice covered the roads and footpaths and I managed to keep my footing until I boarded the bus to head towards the train station. Jordan, from Perth and who also grew up in Noranda like myself, went to wheel his bag down a hill but inadvertently threw it at me and it took my legs out! Ice isn’t soft.
Lake Baikal tastes like vodka. When in Russia, right? For 400RUB (~$12AUD) you can easily pick up a good bottle of vodka and do as the Russians do! I even managed to buy some contraband vodka from a shop assistant during a train stop on the way to Irkutsk and had to smuggle it out of the store inside a jacket!
Lake Baikal sounds like dogs barking. There wasn’t just the usual noisy neighbourhood dogs barking and making a nuisance of themselves but there were also hundreds of stray dogs that roam the streets and bark at everyone and everything.
Lake Baikal was a relaxing and picturesque town with a couple of great hikes to give you extensive views of the lake and is a good place to stop for those taking the Trans-Siberian Railway. Its location, roughly halfway between Beijing and Moscow makes it an ideal place to recharge your batteries, whilst also getting to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now onto the final leg of my Trans-Siberian experience and Moscow after a direct four days across Russia!
Country number 34 – Russia… Check!