Edit Blog Post
Published: September 1st 2013
While our Mongolian visas are being processed at the embassy in Irkutsk we go off for a couple of days R&R on Lake Baikal. The easiest option is to ride 70km down the nice straight tarmac road to Listvyanka but when do we ever do anything simple and anyway we went there 2 years ago.
So instead we set off to explore the Olkhon Island a mere 300km away from Irkutsk. The first stage is a 250km ride to the “ferry port” at Sakhyurta half way up the western shore of the lake. You don't get to see the lake until the last minute when you are a few km away from the ferry – just about the point when the tarmac stops and the dirt starts. For most of the 250km we are riding through rolling green hills covered in grassland and forest.
What's very different are the villages – we are now in Buryat territory so there's more Buddhist temples than onion domed churches and the roadside shrines are a unique Buddhist/shamanic mix (yellow shamanism). They are usually tall wooden “totem poles”often covered in tied on pieces of cloth and with offerings of coins, drink bottles, cigarettes,
sweets etc. scattered round. There's usually a little picnic table too. They make for very pleasant little stops along the way.
After 250km we reach “Sakhyurta ferry port” i.e. 1x small café, 1x outside squat toilet, lots and lots of souvenir stalls. Its only a short hop to the island and there are two small ferries shuttling back and forth. We pile on with the cars and 20 mins later are on the island – Olkhon is, apparently, the 3rd
largest lake bound island in the world, it even has its own lakes. Its nice to be in the middle of the lake, surrounded by water. Its the deepest, oldest lake in the world plus lots of other interesting facts but I told you all that 2 years ago so I wont bore you again.
The southern end of the island is all rolling grassland but there's no tarmac so we are on dirt roads and not very good ones. In-fact they are the worst we have been on so far. Somehow there seems to be loose stones on the surface so the back wheel is sliding round, Edwin says its like riding on marbles. Sometimes we take
to the tracks running across the grassland but they are as bad as they are often deep sand.
After 35km as we approach the main town of Khuzhir we have great views of Shaman's Rocks. The whole island is sacred to the Buryat people and is considered one of the five global poles of shamanic energy. Khuzhir itself would not look out of place in a Western – it has a very 'one horse town' feel to it and the main road is just deep, deep sand.
We continue on, along the west coast looking for a camping spot – difficult as there are just too many to choose from!! Its just a continuous run of grassy hilltops overlooking sandy bays. We eventually choose our hill top at the end of a very sandy track which has just been graded so its even trickier to negotiate. Once we reach the hill top we pitch our tents and settle down round the camp-fire, vodka in hand, to watch the sun setting over the mountains on the far side of the lake.
The next day we indulge in proper R&R – no riding the bike, no museums just walking
along the coast line and admiring the scenery. We give the swimming a miss as the water is dam cold, the ice only melted in June! There's lots of wild flowers around to keep me happy – at a casual glance the ground just looks like sand covered by thin, spreading, scruffy vegetation but up close its full of tiny wild flowers.
After another evening of admiring the lake and partaking in the local vodka we make the return journey back to Irkutsk. Its the same road but it all looks different going down it from the other direction and is just as enjoyable as the first time. The traffic and chaos of Irkutsk is a bit of a shock after the calm tranquillity of the Olkhon Islands.
Tomorrow we pick up our visas and head off to Mongolia.
Tot: 0.068s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 12; qc: 35; dbt: 0.0152s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb