If you are interested in Russia, you have almost definitely heard of Lake Baikal – Russian pride and its natural treasure.
Situated in south-east Siberia, Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,642m) lake in the world. With an area of about 31,500 square kilometres, length of 636 kilometres and an average width of 48 kilometres, it is truly enormous! Furthermore, it contains more water than all North American Great lakes combined! More importantly though – it has 20% of world’s unfrozen fresh water reserve!
Lake Baikal was formed as an ancient rift valley. The rift continues to open, causing up to 2,000 earthquake tremors each year. Most of them are not major, though. Due to such active seismic activity, the lake becomes deeper and increases in size. For instance, the famous Tsagan earthquake of 1862 resulted in the creation of Proval Bay. Moreover, according to the Baikal Centre, some geophysicists believe that Lake Baikal is an ocean being born. The shores of the lake are drifting apart by 2 centimetres a year, the same rate at which Africa and South America drift apart. Therefore, in about 20 million years Eurasia might split in two!
‘Galapagos of Russia’
Sometimes referred to as the Sacred Sea, Lake Baikal represents the unspoilt beauty of Russia. UNESCO-protected lake is also known as the ‘Galapagos Of Russia’ due to its exceptional biodiversity and value to evolutionary science. After all, Lake Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. Perhaps, the most famous of these species is nerpa, the world’s only freshwater seal. Other endemic species include golomyanka fish and the omul, a white fish that is one of Lake Baikal’s most famous dishes. Land-based animals around Lake Baikal include bears, reindeer, wild boar, elk, Siberian roe deer, sable, ermine, polecats and wolves.
How to get there
For obvious reasons (we are talking about the largest country in the world after all), the quickest way is to take a plane. The closest big city from which you can visit the Siberian jewel is Irkutsk. If you have a little bit more time, take a train there. Irkutsk is a stop on a Trans-Siberian Railway journey.
There are numerous tours organised by travel agencies to explore the lake and experience the local traditions. Summer is a good season to visit due to milder weather. It is great for hiking around the lake, swimming and boat trips. Winter and early spring is great for ice skating or dog sledding on Lake Baikal’s beautiful and strikingly pure ice, the thickness of which can reach 2 metres!
All in all, Lake Baikal is a unique place and a true nature’s gem that is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime!