Somebody once told me that Russia is not a country – Russia it’s a state of mind. After 2 weeks that we have spend in Russia I certainly think that it’s a true statement. If you really want to normally function in this country, you have to think within the Russian standards.
Let’s give an example of Irkutsk – if you have a chance take a look at a map – you would think that it’s located on the Baikal Lake right? Well at least you would think that it is, but in a real life it takes about 184 miles to get to the their biggest attraction – Olkhon Island- which1/3 of that route is not even paved, and then you have to take a ferry to get to the main island. By looking at the map you might think it’s a quick journey, but in reality it takes almost a whole day to get there. Welcome to Russia!
Not even to mention that both of us were hoping that on the way there we can snooze a little, but unfortunately pretty rough road conditions and marshrutka’s ( form of public transportation) driver who most certainly thought that he is a race car driver, was flying on the road trying to pass other drivers on both sides of the road- enabled us from getting much needed sleep. Even if for a minute we were able to close our eyes, we were woken up whenever we were flying out of our seats ( literally!) while driving with the speed of light over another big hole on the road.
Baikal is the oldest and the deepest lake in the world and according to the “Little Prince” we grown ups like numbers so much that might be easier for everyone to comprehend how big is that lake by giving you some numbers. So let’s do it:
* Baikal is longer than the country of Poland – his length is around 395 miles ( 636 km) which is about 30 miles less than the length from Zakopane to Hel
* The shore length is 1,300 miles ( 2,100km) which if for some unexplained reason you would have decided to walk from Krakow to London you would have about 120 miles (200km) to walk around London.
* Baikal holds 1/5 of the Earth’s resources of the fresh water
* There are 27 islands on Baikal Lake which earlier mentioned Olkhon is the biggest with an area of 280 sq miles (742 sq km)!
Our Baikal journey really started when we got to the little village called Khuzhir on the island of Olkhon. It is an adorable village with about 1500 residents. You can find there a post office, pharmacy and couple of the stores. The most fascinating are the views and the streets that literally look like they were build by someone who was fascinated with one of those western movies with Clint Eastwood but everything was happening in western Russia with great special effects. The only thing that was missing was the saloon and the sound of shooting and bullets flying right over your head. I have to admit even without the bullets and guns we were able to blend pretty well especially with our hats on.
The overall climate of Baikal is pretty harsh. Even though it was sunny the wind was pretty cold. It is important that when you visit the island to have something to wear that will protect you from the cold blowing wind. Throughout the bigger part of the year the lake is covered with ice which makes much more difficult for the households to have an access to running water. They have to get the water from Baikal when it’s not frozen and keep them in the big containers throughout the year by their houses. In reality Khuzhir looks like the time has stopped and that is why this place is so magical and one of a kind. Almost all of the houses are made out of wood and you can only dream about paved roads. There is one little church and one port that has more broken boats than working one!
Interesting thing was that practically every other car on the island was so called “Uazik” and i have no freaking idea what kind of car is this ( is it really UAZ?) but it looks like an old version of hippie VW Transporter and seriously there is a bunch of them here. Pick up’s, vans- all of them are either gray, green or blue and if you think about it, it makes total sense as if you need a part to fix your car there is big chance that one of your neighbors might have it especially that within last 170 miles we havent seen any auto part store.
By the way – “buhac” in Russian means “drink” and it has nothing to do with soft drinks or juices. It is definitely something much stronger and contains some kind of percentage of alcohol.
The local delicacy is of course fish and to be more specific it is smoked Baikal omul that you get in every store here ( to be more specific in every 6 stores!). If you are ever in the area I recommend trying omul especially smoked that is served warm as well as other dishes that are made out of fish that you can get in other parts of Russia too.
The biggest tourist attraction here is Shaman’s Rock ( Burchan). It is a holly place for everyone living in the area. I read somewhere that this place was named as one of the most holly places in Asia. For the tourists this is one of the most recognizable attraction as well as the omul symbol and Baikal seal.
Visiting this amazing place we had a chance not only to see the spectacular views during the sunset, but we had an opportunity to watch one of the holly rituals done by local shamans. Most of them didn’t feel comfortable talking to us neither want us to take any pictures but this one particular shaman spoke fluent English so he could answer some of the questions we had and was eager to pose for pictures that we took. He also was able by using my name, date of birth and my father’s name ( greetings dad!!!) to read my future and it turned out that I’ll be living long and happy life surrounded by big water. And if you ask me I love this vision of my future,but its hard to take his reading seriously as you could smell a serious amount of alcohol in his breath and most of the things he was saying didnt make fucking sense to me. Also between me and you…….i have no idea what they are smoking during their rituals but it works for them! And i mean it……it really works for them! Unfortunately they didnt share with us…
Here is a short clip summarizing our stay in Khuzhir.