Lake Baikal (Irkust Province)
Discover a place so beautiful it literally will take your breath away. Lake Baikal, in the Irkust Province of Siberia in Russia, is simply magical – you have to visit it and see for yourself. It is paradise for the nature lover, the wildlife watcher and the consummate fisherman.
The name says it all – 'Baikal' is from the Turk language that means 'wealthy' (bai) and 'lake' (kul). So Baikal is 'Wealthy Lake', and indeed it is. Its nickname, the 'Pearl of Siberia', is well-deserved.
Lake Baikal is a national treasure that is prized for its sheer beauty and immensity. It is around 80 kilometers wide and 636 kilometers long, far larger than most lakes in the world. Selenga, Barguzin, Snezhnaya and Angara are just part of a long list of streams and rivers that feed this lake. There are over 300 rivers and streams feeding the lake – imagine that!. In terms of surface fresh water, the lake actually contains twenty percent of this. It is also the world's deepest lake, as its depth reaches nearly a mile. As such, there are plenty of endemic flora and fauna to be found here than anywhere else in the world, including some fifty species of fish. Do try the omul salmon, which is an all-time favorite fish. The omul and any other fish can be done as 'solyoni', which is salted fresh fish that is oh, so yummy!
The lake is so lovely that you can simply take in its picturesque beauty and consider it worth the trip. However there are still plenty of opportunities for you to engage in outdoor activities. You can go kayaking, fishing, camping, climbing, and hiking. During winter, the lake actually freezes over. This is a good time to tour it by sleigh. Summer time brings out the colorful beauty of the lake's wildflowers, a fitting background for someone going nature-tripping.
Lake Baikal also boasts of cultural learning opportunities. It is, after all, the home of the Buryat people and the native Sayats. The lake itself is also considered a holy place. People come to pray to the lake. There are also carvings and portions of religious buildings used by tribes over the centuries.
Lake Baikal's water is renowned for its supposed medicinal properties. It is called 'living water'. The water is also so clear that you can peer from your boat and see up to 40 meters down.
One thing you can do in Lake Baikal is to go wildlife watching. Animals endemic to the area include the elk, deer, sables, lynx, moose, and brown bear. It is also home to the nerpas, the only fresh water seals in the world. These are to be found in the northern parts of Baikal and near the Ushkanye islands. Aside from the cornucopia of fish species living in the lake, you can also see tiny crayfish by the thousands. These are considered caretakers of the lake as they eat bacteria and waterweeds, thus ensuring the clear waters the lake is famous for.
The surrounding shores with its pristine forests also add to the lake's unsurpassed beauty. It is fortunate that the lake has been designated as a national park in 1992. It was also declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1996.