Lake Baikal is a freshwater ecosystem that is the deepest and oldest lake in the world, and the 2nd largest lake on the earth by volume.
It lies in Southern Siberia near the city of Irkutsk. It contains over one fifth of the world's liquid fresh surface water and more than 90% of Russia's liquid fresh surface water.
Besides the lake itself, the designated area also includes its catchment basin, the river-head of the Angarar river and the Irkutsk water reservoir. The lake is completely surrounded by mountains.
Notable fauna includes the endemic Baikal seal and fish species like the omul and the Baikal oil fish.
Jarek Pokrzywnicki - September 2008
I was visiting Baikal Lake in late spring (June) 2008, having seen Listwianka, Sludianka towns, Olkhon Island and travelling via so called Cirkum-Baikal railway. The most remarkable sceneries are of course those of Olkhon (the majestic Sayan mountains over the so called "Small Sea" seen from Khuzyr village is something that will be remembered for life). Nerpa seals are on display (alive) in Baikal Museum in Listwianka, the best place to start a trip is undoubtfully Listwianka (available private flats to rent as well as numerous hotels and hostels) and during season there are jet-lake transportation as far as the most northern part of Baikal (Severobaikalsk).
We chose to visit Siberia in winter (as long ago as March 1989 - no doubt it will be a different world now) in order to experience it as it “ought to be” – covered in ice and snow! It was a somewhat rushed trip by Trans Siberian railway with minimal stop-overs. The train journey in from Ulan Ude takes you along the South Eastern shore with nice mountain scenery but our visit to the lake itself took us to the village of Listvyanka on a day trip from Irkutsk. The village receives more tourists than anywhere else around the Lake and has a Limnological Institute where you can learn something of the ecology of the lake. It is situated near the exit point of the Angara river from the Lake as it starts its long journey north through Irkutsk, Bratsk and eventually to the Yenisei and the Arctic Ocean.
For us the most amazing part of the trip was to walk out on the ice covering the lake. Not just that but to have heavy lorries passing by! (photo). In winter the lake serves as a road on ice which is (we were told) 1 metre thick. We were led to question whether this was really enough as the ice-sheet swayed up and down in response to the passage of the lorries! No doubt those who live in Scandinavia or continental N Europe/N America are used to walking on lakes but it was a novel experience for us. The thought that this was the deepest fresh water lake in the world with up to 1.6 kms of water beneath us made it a memorable visit.
The unique ecology which has led to the Lake being inscribed on the WHS list is not really accessible to the passing tourist and to that extent a visit is always going to be a slight disappointment. The famous Baikal seals are apparently visible at the Ushakanyi islands but to get to them requires a boat trip and a stay of several days in the area. I have seen the scenery praised as eg “There is probably no more beautiful place in Russia…”. This is to overdo it in my opinion.
The place is, however, undoubtedly “interesting” and I would certainly recommend a winter visit..
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Full name: Lake Baikal
1996 - InscribedReasons for inscription
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- 'Threatened' by Dams three existing, one constructed and two proposed large dams in the Lake Baikal-Angara River threaten the Site's hydrological regime
- Diplomatic Missions of Joseon Envoy Min Yonghwan 14 September 1896 (Lunar date 8/8. Russian date 2/9) Morning rain, afternoon clear. "We travelled 120 leagues and at 5:00 A.M. arrived at the great Lake Baikal (160 leagues across and 400 leagues in length)..All day long we travelled along the lake through rocky passes and around mountain peaks. It was difficult to endure the severe rocking of the carriage. At nightfall it rained."
Religion and Belief
- Holiest place Shaman Rock at Olkhon is the holiest place for the Buryats, Yakuts and Altais.
- Legends and Folk Myths Natives believe that Burkhan, a modern religious cult figure of the Altai peoples, lives in the cave in the Shaman Rock on Olkhon.
- Shamanism The indigenous Buryats, who practise Shamanism, believe that Olkhon Island in the lake is a spiritual place. On the west coast of the island is the Shamanka or Shaman's Rock.
- Oligocene It is also among the clearest of all lakes, and thought to be the world's oldest lake at 25 million years (wiki)
- Dubbed as another WHS Galapagos of Russia