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Baikal lake

Olkhon island

The island of Olkhon is the biggest island of Baikal, with steep mountains on the Eastern shore. The Western shore ends with many bays of the Maloye More (the territory between the Western shore of the Lake and Olkhon island). The island is 72 km (45 miles) long and 15 km (9,5 miles) wide with a population of 1500 people. The major occupations are fishing and cattle breeding. The Island's aboriginal people are the Buryats. The «capital» of the island is Khuzhir. Scientists still debate whether «Olkhon» is translated as «little forest» or «dry» as both names fit well. The amount of precipitation is extremely low here: about 240 mm (9,4 inches) per year.

Olkhon has a great combination of landscapes and is rich with archeological landmarks. Is was the first place on Baikal which Russian explorers visited during the 17th century. Olkhon is the geographical, historical and spiritual center of Baikal, the heart of many legends and fairy tales and is believed to be the home of many Baikal spirits. Legends say that Khan Gutababai, the head of all khans, was sent here by high spirits from the Heavens. His son Shubunkua still lives here as white eagle.

Olkhon has many beautiful places and everyone discovers his or her own favorite place in Olkhon.

Zagli Bay is the sunniest place in the Irkutsk region. The number of sunny days per year here is more than at the coast of the Black sea.

Kobylia Golova Cape (Horse Head, Khorin-Igri) resembles a horse, drinking water from the lake. This is the first cape you see when you cross the channel by ferry. Legends say that the warriors of Ghengis-Khan stayed here. Sarma, the most ferocious wind on Baikal, blows here, and the name comes from the river and valley that lay across the Maloye More.

Khaday Mountain is the highest pass between the ferry dock and Khuzhir. Shamanists pray here and give offerings to the spirits.

Khargoy Cape attracts tourists with its simple beauty. Here one finds remains of an ancient Kurykan's wall. ( «Kurykan» is the name of the nation that lived here). Scientists still argue if this wall served as a sacred place or a place for hiding.

Lake (bay) Khankhoy (Eldai, Yalga) is a suitable place for those who like camping, swimming and fishing. But better bring some wood with you for your campfire. It is isolated from Baikal by a thin natural sand bar.

Burkhan Cape (Shaman Rock) is known as one of the palaces of Heaven's gods, tengrii (gods), and one of Asia's most sacred places. This is the visit card of Olkhon island. Here many testimonies were found that the ancient peoples lived here. The strongest of the heavenly tengriis (gods) chose Shaman Rock to be his home, and people where not allowed to go there. Many years ago people used to cover hooves of their horses so as not to disturb the great spirit and master of the Rock. Now people are not supposed to think negatively or behave badly here.

Saraysky Bay Beach goes for 3 km (1,9 ml) from Burkhan Cape to Kharantsy village. It's a place where in summer one can relax on hot sand and listen to the music of the waves and contemplate the great panorama of the mountains across the Maloye More.

Sandy Beach of Ulan-Khushin Bay and its surroundings greet you with blossoming thyme and larch trees, and appear as if they comes from a fairy tale. It is said that it keeps its own spirits and secrets.

Peschanka Bay is another unique place with sand dunes that move as the time passes. There are heaps of flowers on each dune and many trees with open roots. Not so long ago here were the demolished buildings of the Maloye More fishery, where prisoners worked shortly after the Second World War. The only places that keep memories of the time are the peer and fragments of the buildings. The old abandoned cemetery is difficult to find in the nearby forest.

Khoboy — the most northern cape of Olkhon — when looked at from the water, resembles a woman's profile. You hear multivoiced echoes reflected by a great boulder and meet rare plants. From the cape your can overlook the great panoramic view of the Maloye and Bolshoe More, and if the weather is good — the Ushkany Islands and Svyatoy Nos ( Eastern Shore of the lake). Someone once said that Khoboy seems to be the end of the Earth — as it is surrounded by water. «Khoboy» means «tusk». If you are lucky, you can see seals — the most impressive performance — that come to sunbathe on the rocks below.

Uzury is a valley that brings you to the Bolshoe More, where there is a great panoramic view of Baikal. It is the only valley with easy access to the water in the North of the island. Here is a little settlement with a few research centers from the Russian Academy of Science including the Institute of the Earth's Crust.

Shara-Nury Lake is the so called «salted lake». Mud from the lake is believed to heal different illnesses, including arthritis. In summer the water is pleasantly warm and good for swimming.

Idebe (Yagiba) Valley is a valley with a great natural world, where flowers change quickly all the summer, coloring it blue, pink and lilac. August brings many mushrooms there. A rock called «Warrior Shushke-Bukha» stands in the forest nearby.

Zhima is the highest mountain in Olkhon. It is a sacred place where, as legends say, the Master of Olkhon lived. Here fragments of Buddhist hut called «mankhos' are found. On the western side relicts of spruce trees that were found by Nikolai Reviakin, a teacher from the local school, in 1963, grow. Traditionally, woman were not allowed to climb the mountain.

Baikal seal

There are many mysteries related to the Baikal seal (nerpa). The origins of the seal are not found yet. What made it come to Lake Baikal? The relative species of the Baikal seal live approximately 3000 km (1875 ml) away from the lake in the seas of the Arctic Ocean. There are many hypotheses related to this fact. The most popular version belongs to the famous explorer I.D. Chersky who said that the seal came into Baikal from the Arctic Ocean moving upstream the Yenissey and the Angara rivers in the time of glacial period.

Many people think that the seal appeared in the lake long before the glacial period. But actually there are no evidences supporting any of these hypotheses. One thing is right — the natural environment and food supply of the freshwater lake, turned to be very favorable conditions for the life of nerpa (seal).

The Baikal seal is quite a big animal. It can weight up to 50-130 kg (110-286 pounds) and the length of the body can be up to 165 cm (5,5 ft). The maximum life-span of the females — 56 years and 52 years for the males. The adult seals have short (approximately 2 cm) coarse and thick hair. The fur of these animals is better than the fur of other species of seals. The upper part of the body is grey and brown with the silver shade, the lower part is lighter. There's no difference in color between the males and females. It's very difficult to find a spotted Baikal seal. There's a huge layer of fat under comparatively thick skin. During the best nourishment of the Baikal seal (usually in winter) the layer of fat makes nearby half of the weight of the animals. Hypodermic fat is a heat insulation several centimeters deep which helps them survive without food for a long time. Besides the hypodermic fat reduces the specific gravity of the body and makes swimming easy.

Amongst its relatives: the Caspian seal, the ring seal of the Northern and Far Eastern seas — the Baikal seal is known for its sire and its capability to stay under the surface of water for 70 minutes. Usually the Baikal seal can stay under the surface of the water without rising for nearly 30 minutes. Nerpa makes holes in the new thin ice in the winter time for breathing. Snow pressed snowdrifts protect the holes from freezing. It's incredible, how nerpa survives in the icy water during the cold Siberian winters. Hypodermic fat and the skin of nerpa are its firm armor saving it from the cold.

The females achieve puberty at the age of 4 or 7.The males achieve it later. The pregnant females make huge brood shelters in the blocks of ice and later in March they give birth to a cub, which usually weights 4 kg (8,8 pounds). The cubs don't have fat packing, that's the reason for their keeping themselves warm themselves with the help of thick, silky white and yellow fur. People call them „white cubs“ because of this „silver fur-coat“.

The cubs (puppies) don't leave the shelter during the first day of life and only in a month they are eager to dive into water. They are fed with their mothers' milk for 2 months and after that they start eating fish. They become fat enough by this time and their weight increases by several times. It's not a surprise because they are fed by their mothers with the milk of 40% fat. Small puppies weigh 16 kg (35,2 pounds) and are 1 meter (3 ft) long by June. They whelp usually every year, giving birth to one cub as a rule. The females can give birth to an offspring up to 10-15 times a life.

The breeding ground of the Baikal seal is scattered everywhere in the lake but actually they prefer to live in the northern part of Baikal, the density of population is not big — near the island of Olkhon and the Ushkanyi islands.

Nerpa usually eats fish. It hunts in the well lit up layer of water, which is 30 meters (90 ft) deep. Nerpa has a rest here as long as it has oxygen reserves. Depending upon the season nerpa likes to eat either big or small oil fish (golomianka) or different kinds of bull-heads (gobies). The seal rarely eats omul, white fish or burbot because they are fast enough to be caught. The normal ration is composed of small fish: up to 10-15 cm (4-6 inches). It's interesting to mention, that the seal doesn't chew fish but swallows it whole. The mature animal eats approximately 8 kg (17,6 pounds) of fish a day.


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