Into the deep
Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake, stretches for nearly 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world's unfrozen surface fresh water. It contains more water than all of the North American Great Lakes combined. It is also considered among the world's clearest lakes and is thought to be the oldest lake in the world at 25 million years old. The lake was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. It is also home to the Buryat tribes who reside on the eastern side of Lake Baikal, rearing goats, camels, cattle, and sheep. Temperatures can get bitterly cold in the winter months; sometimes reaching -19°C (-2°F). Lake Baikal is easily reachable from Irkutsk; one of the largest cities in Siberia. It can however be a rough journey as road conditions often deteriorate the further out of the city you get. Olkhon Island, by far the largest island on Lake Baikal is a great place to get away from civilisation and to enjoy the magnificent energy of the lake. From its soaring mountains, its deep blue water and golden shoreline, most agree that Siberia doesn’t get better than this.
Legend has it that swimming in Lake Baikal can give you an extra five years added onto your life. This in itself was a reason to try. After spending four days on the Trans-Siberian Express, a few hours on a mini bus and then finally a short boat journey to Olkhon Island meant we were all worn out and exhausted from continuous travelling. However, arriving on Olkhon Island, with its breath-taking landscape was a rather surreal experience. After dropping off our belongings at one of the local guesthouses we made our way to a golden sandy beach along the northern shore of Olkhon Island. The water, a deep shade of blue disappeared into the distance like a vast ocean. A boat glided past slowly in the distance making small ripples into the otherwise perfectly still water. The lake felt cold and uninviting, but at the same time refreshing and pure. The emptiness and eerie silence made it both relaxing yet mysterious. Suddenly the evening fell and the mountains disappeared into the grey misty sky. The sun slowly dropped behind the unforgiving landscape and the lake vanished behind a blanket of darkness. As we strolled back to the guesthouse, a deep silence ensued, and civilisation and busy urban life had never felt further away.