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Published: December 1st 2010
From Irkutsk we follow the Angara River for 70km back to its source at Lake Baikal. 336 rivers flow into the lake but the Angara is the only river that flows out - its very wide and very fast flowing. I suppose that's why they dammed it for hydroelectricity and caused Lake Baikal to rise by several meters.
Down on the shores of the lake is the little village of Listvyanka full of wooden houses with potato patches as their front gardens. Having seen so many little wooden villages form the train its nice to actually be staying in one. Like the rest of the houses in the village ours has no running water and the toilet is at the bottom of the garden next to the banya (traditional sauna). Its been like this since we entered Russia, its not something I'd ever thought about, I'd just assumed everywhere in Russia would be quite European and have running water. Anyway its not a problem as each evening the banya is stoked up and we have a sauna. The main problem is avoiding all the naked men that come round for a sauna party when we have finished – it makes
The Angara River on her way from Lake Baikal to Irkutsk
336 rivers flow into Lake Baikal but only the Angara flows out
going for a late evening pee quite exciting!
Listvyanka is a popular little place, full of Russian playing with their speed boats and enjoying a day out at the beach. Except there aren't really that many beaches, not since the lake level rose. The main, pebbly, beach is lined with a row of wooden picnic benches covered by open wooden shelters – they don't do deck chairs here. The picnic benches are filled with Russian families tucking into their Omul fish. There can't be many Omul fish left in the lake as most of the market is taken up with stalls selling smoked Omul fish. Stall that aren't selling fish are selling charoite, an unusual purple gemstone that's only ever been found in one remote location in Siberia – it just doesn't look natural but it is.
Despite the people on the beach there aren't many people in the water. You soon find out why when you dip your toe in – its very cold.! If you swim in the lake its supposed to add 25 years to your life. I settle for a quick paddle and a wash of the face which will apparently give me an
the source of the Angara
where does the lake end and the river start? The river is about a km wide here
extra 10 years.
Lake Baikal boasts an impressive list of what its biggest and best at;
- the deepest lake in the world (1637m)
- the oldest lake in the world - formed when the tectonic plates shifted 25-50 million years ago.
- it contains 1/5th of the world unfrozen fresh water – that's more than the 5 Great Lakes combined.
- the water is incredibly clear with 40m visibility
- there's 1700 species of plant and animal in the lake and 80% of these are not found anywhere else like the nerpa fresh water seals that occasionally raise their heads like periscopes for a look round before disappearing again.
- it freezes over in winter to a depth of 3m and you can drive across the lake – now there's an idea!!!!
What it doesn't do is look like a lake – you should be able to see the far shore of a lake. Its more like looking out to sea, especially in the evening watching the sun sink down blow the horizon. Even after an hour chugging along in a fishing boat there's still no sign of any other shore but when the lake is 636km
long (that's from London to Edinburgh) by 40-60km wide I suppose that's not surprising. Form our fishing boat you can appreciate the rugged, forested shore of the lake. Occasionally there's an isolated cove only accessible by boat or hiking and each cove has a single tent pitched in it, a real “get away from it all” location.
Its all very atmospheric, especially the mists that come and go with the sun. There's lots more of the lake to explore but we are supposed to be heading home so we need to hop back on the Trans-Siberian 70km away in Irkutsk. Most people would take the road but not us, there's a little stretch of rarely used train line calling......
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