Sunday, 2 December 2007

Road trip: Novosibirsk - Irkutsk - Lake Baikal


Novosibirsk is the largest city of Siberia, the vast region of northern Asia east of the Ural Mountains. The journey started in Novosibirsk where I got on the Transsib to Irkutsk. I've heard a lot of this train and I also was looking forward to get a ride. The daily passenger train running the whole Moscow-Vladivostok distance takes about seven days and 9300km. The distance between Novosibirsk and Irkutsk is 36 hours and two time zones. Being in the train for so many hours made me understood the name of Siberia: The name Siberia comes from the Tatar term Sibir, meaning 'sleeping land.' It was fun watching villages and cities passing by and then hours of big forests of birch trees. The temperature was between -10°C and -20°C.

Irkutsk (Иркутск)

Irkutsk is the capital of Irkutsk Oblast, at the confluence of the Irkut and Angara rivers. It is a major industrial and commercial center. A large hydroelectric facility is here. A regional cultural center, the city has history and art museums, theaters, a symphony orchestra, and several institutions of higher learning, including a university. Irkutsk was founded in 1652 as a Cossack outpost and developed as a fur- and gold-trading center on the route to Mongolia and China; it was also used by the Russian government as a place of exile. Irkutsk is also the hub for a trip to lake Baikal where I intended to stay for one day.

Lake Baikal (Байкал)

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1,637 m. It is estimated to contain approximately one-fifth of all the earth's fresh surface water. The lake has an area of 31,500 km² and about 1,963 km of shoreline, making it the third largest lake in Asia, as well as the continent’s largest freshwater lake in terms of surface area. Baikal is known for the remarkable clarity of its waters and for the great diversity of its plant and animal life; the majority of species found in the lake are endemic. The sturgeon, salmon, and freshwater-seal fisheries of the lake are valuable, and large quantities of other fish are also caught. I've spent a wonderful time in a little village at the sea. This region is very famous and touristic - of course just for Russian tourists ;) I found a nice hotel made of wood - a bit log house. Beside the hotel is a dog sledging center where I took lesions in steering a dog sledge - that was a lot of fun and a very quick form of transport. At the evening and after a great dinner Banya was scheduled - the great hot Russian sauna. It's incredible hot and much over 100°C - makes a nice difference when you then go out to -20°C. The next I have bought a lot of fresh smoked fish at the local market. Now I have to persuade the check-in agent to allow me 5kg more weight. I'm curious how this will work out.

After all Russia was a great experience for me. It's a pity that the visa regulations are so strict and the Russian authorities make it difficult to get in the country. Once in you can expect a lot of adventures and friendly people. I look forward to come back soon again. As I have now an original Russian fur hat I'm now winter proof for -30°C.

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