Heavenly Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Olkhon Island

Olkhon Island sits like a beautiful gemstone, set in the glimmering silver of Lake Baikal.

This ancient lake in south Siberia is deeper than any other lake in the world, holding twenty percent of the earth’s fresh water.

To leave the busy, polluted cities of Russia and arrive on the shores of Lake Baikal is to rediscover nature and to breathe clean air.

Olkhon Island, Lake BaikalWe reached Olkhon, the largest island on the lake by public minibus from Irkutsk.

Not the most comfortable of rides, it takes about five hours to reach the ferry to take you across to the island then another hour on the other side to reach the main town, Khuzhir. However, we met some fun people on the bus and chatted away those hours.

That evening, we set out from our marvellous lodgings {Nikita’s Homestead} to watch the sunset from Shaman Rock, the sun painting the landscape with golden light.

A nearby tree had been transformed into a fabric-bound totem, the island is the spiritual centre of Siberian Buryat Shamanism.

The late october sun dipped below the southern mountains and the stars lit up one by one until the sky was bright with them.

Olkhon Island, Lake BaikalThe following day we set off on foot to explore the area in more detail.

From Shaman rock we walked up to the colourful line of totems on the hill above the bay then dropped down to the long beach beyond.

How strange to walk along a beach and not smell the salt of the sea, and a sea is how Lake Baikal appears, such is its size.

The beach reached right into the taiga: the pine forest on the island.

Small pine cones littered the sandy forest floor and crossbills fed noisily in the treetops.

We were joined on our walk by one of the islands many stray dogs, she was very friendly and happy to walk at our sides.

Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Later that evening we went round to meet up with the lovely travellers we met on the bus, they were staying in a tiny cabin across town and we sat round a fire, under the stars, drinking vodka while Arrah sang to us.

It was a blissful evening. You can find her wonderful music here: Arrah and the Ferns.

We were booked on a tour of the north half of the island but when we turned up on the morning to join it we discovered we would be accompanied by twelve very drunk Russians {even at 10am, they were steaming!}.

After some discussion – they didn’t want us on ‘their’ tour – we offered to go the following day instead.

This turned out to be the perfect solution, especially when we saw the state of them when they returned much later in the day!

To appease us, the super-informative tour manager Alecks gave us a free lift up to the next village so we could hike back along the coast.

It was a pleasant hike over grassland, through forests and along beaches, with spectacular views across the lake to the mountains beyond.

Olkhon Island, Lake BaikalWalking back, Chris decided to take his first Baikal plunge.

It is said that swimming in Lake Baikal adds five years to your life.

At an average of 5 degrees celsius {41 deg F} at this time of year, you really have to want those extra years!

No sooner had he dipped his head under than his body launched him back out, he shivered back to the beach feeling very alive!

That evening we were joined on the island by our dear friend Sean, he was accompanied by a couple of guys he’d met in Irkutsk. Sean and his new friend Severi joined us on the North Island tour the following day.

The tour was good fun, we were bounced up the coast in an old soviet 4×4 van, stopping at various points of interest and beauty along the way.

We stopped at the eerie remains of a gulag and jetty, where Soviet prisoners processed fish in what I can only imagine to be appalling conditions. The broken and shattered rubble on the ground are all that tell of the frightening history of the bay.

The little van bumbled along deeply rutted tracks in the forest and we emerged high above the lake. We parked up at Khoboy Cape. 

Khoboy translates as Fang in the Buryat language and the tooth-like rock rises up out of the lake, at the northernmost tip of the island.

While we were exploring the cape our driver Alexander cooked our lunch, a fish soup made from the local Baikal fish, Omul, over a small wood fire.

He also prepared a delicious salad and some cheese sandwiches which kept me, the veggie, happy.

Near the northern tip

Near the northern tip

From there we drove down the other side of the island, first to another rocky outcrop and then to a small village at the lake edge.

Pavel, a lovely Czech guy we’d travelled to the island with was the second to go for a swim in the lake, he chose this sheltered bay to do it.

The challenge to all the guys was now on!

This was our final evening on the island, the earlier cloud had lifted and the late afternoon was cloudless and still.

The light was extraordinary, we took a stroll to Shaman Rock, the bay was like glass, the setting sun gave the whole scene a tropical feel.

Chris couldn’t resist another dip, the water looked so inviting. I shivered on the small beach while he waded into the lake for a second time.

Looking back at the photos it is hard to imagine how cold it really was!

We left the following morning, deeply sad to be leaving this heavenly place.

We met up with Sean a few days later back in Irkutsk and both he and Severi had gone for a swim the morning after!

Such heroes!

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Heavenly Olkhon Island

Try these posts:

Hello Mongolia! Arriving by train into Ulaanbaatar on Chenggis Khan’s birthday! How very auspicious!

Irkutsk, a lovely place to pause The stopping off point for Lake Baikal.

Breaking Up The Vastness Of The Journey In Yekaterinburg, Russia A perfect pause on the Trans–Siberian.

Crossing Siberia By Train, Fulfilling a Dream Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk, and one very boozy Russian experience. Yes, we did sing Bohemian Rhapsody to two bemused Russians. Oh dear!

Moscow. Lenin, Gorky Park and a Soviet Space Shuttle! Exploring Moscow and finding some surprises. 

Arriving into St Petersburg, Russia Baby! We got very, very drunk on the train. Let’s just call it an initiation!

From Russia With Love, Red Square Moscow. It’s iconic, and it’s fantastic!


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By Rachel Davis

8 Responses

  1. I keep reading your post from your travels and they all look absolutely amazing. Seriously, I hope I get to travel like this one day. Beautiful photos x

  2. mmmarzipan says:

    Chris is very brave! My feet went in… that’s all I could manage. Perhaps it added 5 minutes to my life? 😉
    Sounds like you’re having the best trip! 😀

  3. davegct says:

    No idea Lake Baikal was so beautiful! And so impressed at Chris for swimming in another frigid body of water. He will live for a long time I guess. And I love all the old vans you are riding around in on this trip! I’d like to know more about Siberian Buryat Shamanism, did you learn anything about it?

    • No, I didn’t really learn much, just that the fabric ribbons are offerings and blue is the usual, most sacred colour. All colours can be used except black, as that represents death.
      We were amazed by its beauty, so different to the Siberia we’d been seeing from the train.
      The little soviet vans are called Uaz, wassers we called them, very cute and very, very good on the terrain. Indistructable!

  4. SnarkyNomad says:

    I missed quite a bit in Russia. Darn short visa rules. Lake Baikal was something I really wanted to see. Someday!