Friday 21st July 2017 – Around Okhlon Island
I woke up at the bungalow hostel, and had some of my left-over bread and nuts. I went to the kitchen to make a tea and a family of mum Svieta, daughter Maria-Martcha and dad Vladimir invited me to join their breakfast table and offered to me cereals and fruits and porridge.
Russians are really generous, beware, if you happen to be near them when they are eating, they will keep sharing their food with you and it is very impolite to refuse! But their food is sooooo goooood!!! They explained to me that they were all from Krasnoyarsk as a group on a well-being trip exploring how things around us impact our nervous system. Interestingly they were taking the same train than us the next evening!
Then with my parents we got picked up by a mini-van around 10am. We were a group of 10, seven Russians and the three of us. The driver-guide didn’t speak a word of English but luckily some of the Russians did. One woman, Gallina, was from Kaliningrad and spoke perfect English. She was used to organise tour groups around Europe for Russians and we could tell by the way she spoke she was used to explain things to people. It was soooo lucky for us as she was able to translate really well the legends of the Baikal Lake the guide explained all day long.
The driver took us to the National Park also where the roads were quite muddy.
Luckily he had a proper 4-wheel drive minibus made in Russia (the drivers of all tour groups around us had the same vehicule). It was from the brand UAZ. The model is actually UAZ-452 – 20069 as I found out on Wikipedia later.
First, we stopped at a spot where on our right we could see some rock in a shape of a crocodile and in front of us we could see the face of Baikal.
Lake Baikal is a very unique lake in the world and I was really excited about spending an entire day going around Olkhon Island admiring it. It is the 7th largest fresh water lake in the world at the surface and contains 20% of the fresh water of the world. It contains more water than the North American Great Lakes combined. It is said that if all fresh water was running out, it could provide water to the entire world population for 40 years. It is the deepest fresh water lake in the world as it goes until 1,642 meters deep in some parts. It is considered among the world’s clearest lakes and is considered the world’s oldest lake at 25 million years. It contains species not found anywhere else.
There are many legends about Lake Baikal. There are two of them from the Buryat ethnic group which explain its origins. The first one says that once upon a time, there was the biggest earthquake even seen on Earth which created a crack and lava came out of the crack destroying everything around. The Buryats shouted ‘Bai Gal!! Bai Gal!!’ which apparently means ‘Stop Fire!! Stop Fire!!’ and it finally stopped and a lake was formed were a hole had been made by the crack so they called that the Baikal Lake.
Another legend goes that once upon time, there was a very rich man called Baikal who lived there and had a daughter called Angara who was the most beautiful girl in the world. He kept her prisoner, guarded by a man called Okhlon, but one boy called Yenisei heard about her beauty and fell in love with her and came to rescue her and they fled together. The dad, Baikal, was very angry and threw a rock in the direction of the lovers but didn’t manage to reach them. He was desperate and started crying and his tears created the lake. Lake Baikal actually has 336 rivers which flow into it and only one called the Angara goes out of it. The Angara River merges later on with the river called Yenisei which is the second biggest river in Russia.
We got back into the minibus and the driver took us to another site called Peschanaya Village where there used to be a fishermen village but then everyone left except one old woman who is still living there.
Then we went to another view point called ‘Three Brothers Rock’.
The ‘Three Brothers Rock’ name is given because of these 3 rocks.
The legend goes that once upon a time there was a man who had 3 sons and one daughter. The daughter fell in love and flew away. The man asked the 3 brothers to find her. They went away and searched and searched until they found her. When they found her, the sister begged her three brothers to not tell their dad as she wanted to stay where she was. The three brothers came back to the dad and lied to him and told him they had not found her. But meanwhile he had learnt that they had found her and as he was angry that they had lied to him, he transformed them into 3 rocks. I found another version of the legend though on Wikipedia which goes as following: ‘According to an old Buryatian legend, there once lived three brothers on Olkhon Island whose father had supernatural powers. Once, their father turned them into eagles but only on the condition that they would not eat dead meat. The brothers were extremely happy with their newly gained freedom as eagles and decided to fly around the island after promising not to eat dead meat. However, when they were flying around the island, they became hungry and found a dead animal. Despite their promises to their father, they ate this dead animal. When their father learned about it, he was furious and turned them into the three rocks that we see today.’ See page here:
Here are the 3 rocks.
Everywhere we went, we saw trees, rocks or trunks with ribbons attached to them. There is a lot of shamanism going on in the region. The Buryats consider Okhlon Island to be a spiritual place. One interpretation that the young couples gave me at the campground is that in the past, people used to attach their horse to trees so that in the morning they could continue their journey. It became symbolic later on that by attaching a ribbon to a tree around here, the person doing so would come back one day to this place. It can also be a symbolic gesture of prayer to attract luck and make wishes become true.
We went to another stop where we tried to see some nerpas, a seal native to Lake Baikal but sadly there were none. The views of Lake Baikal were really incredible though! The lake has such a pretty colour and looks so still.
Our next stop was at a place where the rocks looked like Angel wings. It is called the Cape of Love and it is said that to have a boy you should go left and to have a girl you should go right. Or the opposite.
The views were really pretty too.
Our final stop was at a beach from which we look to the horizon like if the lake had not shores and was the sea. There was a little girl who knew how to make a bowl sing and make the vibrations move the water in the bowl.
After that last stop, we did some more roller-coaster on the muddy roads to drive back and saw some yaks.
The driver dropped all of us back at our respective hotels. Then we walked in the streets of Khuzhir to go meet a friend of Katia (the girl I had met on the plane to Irkutsk) called Lera, a diminutive of Valeria and had some dinner with her then coffee and cakes at the Baikal View Cafe. She was from Irkutsk too and had met Katia learning English in the same school. She was now teaching there and following students sometime for 6 full years. She was really interesting, passionate about History and wars and French food. We talked about World War II seen from the Russian perspective and from the French one. It is interesting to think that the Russian version of WWII focuses of course on Russia’s involvement in the war which is a unique perspective less known in Europe. Another interesting thing was that she was born in Kiev in USSR, a country which doesn’t exist anymore but her passport still said that. Saint Petersburg was called Leningrad until 1991. Imagine having on your passeport: Place of birth: Leningrad, country: USSR. Weird!
Some photos of Khuzhir in the evening. The rock on the picture is called Shaman’s Rock and is one of the sacred places of Asia, important for shamans.
After our really cool evening with Lera, we went back to the hostel and I was thinking: ‘Great, I’ll finally go to bed early!’But around 11pm, I heard amazing guitar being played around the ‘castior’, the firecamp, I love that word. I think I will not use firecamp anymore. Castior is too beautiful!
So I went there and grabbed some tea in the kitchen and sat with everyone around the fire. There was a really good guitarist there for the night called Boudiak and Svetla who I had met in the morning was playing the guitar too and singing songs with her daughter Maria Martcha. I knew none of the songs and could only pick up on a few words sometimes but they were really beautiful, probably Russian folk songs. Everyone went to bed late again around midnight thirty. Such another beautiful evening! In all my travels in the past, I never had the chance to spend so much time with locals travelling their own country. It is usually evenings spent with backpackers from all over the world. I appreciated that evening even more!
Tomorrow, back to Irkutsk then onto my first transsiberian train, the Irkutsk-Krasnoyarsk! Whooooohooooo!!