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Published: April 21st 2022
From Mental Floss: Any natural body of inland water that feels bigger than a pond
can constitute a lake. The lakes of the world vary greatly, with some sites closely resembling seas in many ways. This applies to Lake Baikal
in southeast Siberia. The Unesco World Heritage Site
is the deepest lake on Earth, measuring 5387 feet
at its maximum depth.
Lake depth can be measured in two ways: By the distance from the surface to its deepest point, and by the average depth of the lake as a whole. The Russian lake holds the world record in both these categories. Its mean depth is 2486 feet
, which is greater than the Burj Khalifa
skyscraper in Dubai. If two Burj Khalifas were stacked on top of each other at Baikal's deepest point, less than 50 feet of the top spire would poke past the lake's surface.
Lake Baikal boasts another impressive distinction: It's approximately 25 million years old
, which means it's the oldest lake on the planet. The depth and age of this freshwater body have allowed a variety of organisms to evolve and flourish in isolation. Half of the 60 fish species that live there can't be found anywhere else on Earth, earning the body the title the "Galapagos of Russia." Baikal
is also home to the nerpa, the only exclusively freshwater seal species
known to science.
After supporting a thriving ecosystem for millions of years, the world's deepest lake has come under threat in recent decades. Development on the lake's shores has resulted in pollution that harms the lake's unique plant and animal populations. Local conservationists
have fought to spare the site from some of the most concerning development projects, including plans for a nearby oil pipeline and a uranium plant, but protecting the natural wonder is an ongoing battle.
I was there in May, 2014, during an unexpected winter snow storm. Hardly anyone was there, but I managed to try the local smoked omul (fish), take a boat excursion on the lake, and try some Uzbek food. The Russian food is barely edible.
Baikal was my first excursion off the famous Trans Siberian Railway. The main city, about an hour away is Irkutsk, itself a rather iconic place. All of a sudden, I found fresh fruit and veggies from Turkey for sale at the local farmer's market. But when I went to dinner for sushi, nobody spoke English or Japanese. The staff "looked" Japanese, but only spoke Russian!
It was an experience, but
probably not worth repeating. I am glad I went, but would probably not go again. This includes both Russia and the Trans Siberian Railway.
Now, with the senseless Putin war in Ukraine, I wonder whether anyone will ever visit Russia again, voluntarily?
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