“Ocean-grand sea” is how Baikal was called by Russian pathfinders who came to these areas in the 17th century. What’s more, prior to their arrival many diverse peoples inhabited this region for centuries. And they all endowed the lake with lofty names, worthy of its splendor. The Mongols called it Dalainor – “Great lake”, while the Evenks – ‘lama’, which means “sea”. Even now residents of the settlements on its banks refer to it as none other than a sea. Hardly surprising! This gigantic reservoir of water in the shape of a moon crescent stretches from the south-west to the north-east for 640 kilometers, while its width in its central reaches is about 80 kilometers.
Over 300 rivers and streams fall into the Baikal, while only one – the river Angara – flows out of it. This is the deepest lake in the world: its depth is 1640 meters. The African lake Tanganyika is 200 meters shallower. The lake contains 23% of the world’s entire fresh water reserves.
The basin of the lake could accommodate all the water of the Baltic Sea or the water of all five Great Lakes of America. Moreover, the Baikal water is distinguished for its remarkable purity and transparency.
Baikal is not only the deepest lake in the world – it’s also the oldest! It emerged around 30 million years ago. Naturally, in so long a time it has evolved a rich and distinctive fauna.
Around 1200 animal species have been registered in Baikal and three forth of them are indigenous to it and cannot be found anywhere else. Thus, a special species of seal inhabits Baikal — the Baikal ringed seal. How this sea-faring creature found its way into this fresh-water lake situated so far from the seas is still a mystery.
No less a mystery is the unique Baikal oilfish. Devoid of scales, with a huge mouth and so transparent you can see its insides! Rather like certain species of tropical fish, it doesn’t spawn, but gives birth to small fry. One can speak of the various unique inhabitants of Lake Baikal endlessly. It’s enough to say that scientists had to set aside a separate Baikal zoogeographic region on the map of the world.
It’s hard to say what is more fascinating for a traveler: Baikal itself, with its fauna, or the remarkably beautiful banks hilly, woody, with bays and craggy cliffs, long narrow gorges, deafening waterfalls and secluded coves.
The broad expanse of the lake, in the distance blending with the skyline, is stunningly beautiful in still clear weather. From the bank you can gaze at the transparent water and the remarkable plant and animal life milling there for hours on end. It’s truly captivating!
The most popular place with tourists is – Peschannaya or ‘Sandy” bay. In the sheer beauty of its cliffs and surroundings it is in no way inferior to the famous Crimean Karadag or the coast of the Sea of Japan. You can encounter some amazing trees here. The wind, hollowing out the sand at the roots of the pines growing along the beach, forces them to reach out ever deeper with their roots. As a result, odd-looking trees grow along the coast, towering above the beach to a height of one and a half to two meters on bent crippled-like braces, in the manner of ‘Marcian spiders’.
Another gem of Baikal is Isle Olkhon. With its severe appearance it presents a stark contrast to the gentle landscapes of Peschannaya Bay. This large, steep and hilly island the length of over 70 kilometers is a land apart in the Baikal area. A great many legends and myths are connected with it.
Another fascinating and extraordinary part of Baikal is the Peninsula ‘Svyatoi Nos’ (translated as ‘Sacred Nose’). Fishing, mountain climbing, walks along the hills of the peninsula and berry and mushroom picking, besides simply observing the peaceful beauty of nature on the lake’s shore in the evening brings one tranquil joy and a sense of well-being.
One of the spots on the coast of Svyatoi Nos is particularly mysterious and interesting. It’s called “singing sands”. Such sands are quite a rare phenomenon on the planet. When walked upon, the sands emit a loud creaking, similar to the sound produced by leather shoes. If you augment that by raking the sand with your feet, the creaking increases and evolves into an intermittent howling.
There are natural spots in Russia which charm you once and for all. Baikal is just such a place. Any traveler who has at least once visited the ‘glorious sea’, will confirm the truth of the old saying “He who has not seen Baikal – has not known Siberia…”