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  Main arrow Tour offers and itineraries arrow Rendezvous With Baikal Seals  
 
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 “RENDEZVOUS WITH BAIKAL SEALS”

 

while cruising lake Baikal on the way to  the Baikal-Amur Railway
   

Lake Baikal -- "Mother Baikal" to Russia's ancient Buddhist peoples, "Pearl of Siberia" to others who live near her - is well known, both as sacred symbol and natural gem. Four thousand times older than North America's Great Lakes, Baikal holds 22% of the world's available fresh water. If Baikal was empty and all of the planet's major rivers drained into her -- the Nile, Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, and numerous others combined -- it would take over a year for the lake to be filled.
Lake Baikal is home to the world's only fresh water seal – locally called “the nerpa”. Believed to have descended from the Arctic Ocean over 800,000 years ago, the nerpa has since claimed Lake Baikal as its own. With no natural predators other than humans, the seals are precious living symbols of the lake's uniqueness.
For years, despite the lake's natural beauty, polluting industries sprang up around Baikal. After intense lobbying from environmental groups, some progress was made in the last few years to limit the damage. In 1999 a federal law on the protection of Lake Baikal was passed.  But these very efforts to protect the lake have contributed to another incipient disaster. As jobs have slowly dried up in the region over the last decade, the nerpa seal has come under threat because hundreds of people have been forced into poaching to make a living.

Tourism on sustainable basis slowly but is becoming an effective tool to fight poaching and pollution on Lake Baikal.  While on nature viewing tours like the one offered below we do hire the local people for some parts of our tour itineraries, enroll them as local guides, pay fees to national parks and nature preserves, pay  the rangers for the visit to Ushkanyi Islands  to observe fresh water seals etc.  In other words, local communities start realizing that in the long run they will benefit  more from keeping the wild life around them alive and do support it other than destruct …
We welcome you to join us on fabulous Lake Baikal cruising trip  - from South to North – to enjoy the lake’s gorgeous  varied sceneries, culture of local people while taking your share in preservation of this gem of Siberia and the well of planet Earth ( certain amounts  of the total amount earned by Baikal Discovery on the below trip shall be donated to preserve the environment or help to fight poaching…)

 


 

 

Schedule of activities

 

Day 1 

In the afternoon departure by coach from Irkutsk to Listvyanka settlement, located on Lake Baikal in the mouth of the Angara river ( the lake’s only outlet). En route stop near the Burayt Holy Obo and visit to the Taltsy Open-Air Museum of Wooden Architecture  on 47-th km of Baikal Highway which large and unique  display of original wooden houses dating back to the 17-th -20 centureis unfolds in a truly exiting story about the past history of Siberia and its Russian explorers.
After 1.5 hour guide tour of the Museum we continue further 18 km to the Shaman Rock in the mouth of the Angara for short stop there to hear the guide’s story and legend about “strict father Baikal and his disobedient daughter Angara” as well as for taking pictures. When checking up  at Baikal Hotel enjoy Baikal Discovery welcome drink. Time at leisure which you can spend taking rest or taking a walk to the nearby Chersky Mountain from atop of which thre’re excellent vistas of the Angara river mouth and Lake Baikal southern part.  Dinner. Overnight at the hotel.

 

 The Legend of Angara

In the times of old, mighty Baikal was jovial and kindly. All of his heart was given to his only daughter Angara. There was nothing under the heavens to supersede her beauty. By day she was bright--brighter than the sky, by night she was dark--darker than a storm cloud. Whoever passed by her, everyone marveled at her, and praised her. Even the itinerant birds--geese, swans, cranes--descended nethermost, but seldom took to the water. They spoke: --Who dareth darken the bright? The Old Man Baikal cared less for his own soul than for his daughter. Once, while Baikal reposed himself, Angara betook to the flight to young fellow Yenisei. There arose the Father, splashing the waves in rage. Fiery storm broke, the mountains cried out, the forests collapsed, the heavens turned black with grief, animals scattered about the face of the Earth in horror, fishes dove to the bottom, birds shot to the sun. Wind alone was wailing and the mighty sea was raging. Powerful Baikal struck a gray mountain, broke a cliff away and hurled it after his fleeing daughter. The cliff landed on the very throat of the beauty. Pleaded the blue-eyed Angara, choking and weeping, and begged: --Father, forgive me and let me have a single drop of water, for I am dying of thirst... Cried out Baikal in fury: --I hath naught to give thee but thy tears!... For millenia, there flow the tears of Angara towards Yenisei, while the lonely and gray Baikal turned gloomy and ominous. The cliff that Baikal cast after his daughter got the name "Shaman Cliff" among the people. Rich sacrifices were offered to Baikal there. People used to say: "Should Baikal get infuriated, he would tear the Shaman Cliff away and the water will surge out and flood the Earth…

 


Day 2

After breakfast we’ll have a guided tour of Baikal Ecology Museum which has one-of-a-kind collection of exhibits about flora and fauna of Baikal, see recently constructed Aquarium with Baikal fresh water seals. Lunch shall be served back at the hotel. Then check out from the hotel for transfer to the local boat station to board the vessel for the Baikal cruising trip. When boarding the vessel  enjoy “One for the Road” Captain’s Welcome Drink and have the captain introduce the crew to you. Star out on your Laka Baikal cruise trip. Proceed first to the Sand Bay ( Peschanaya Baу, 80 km, 5.5 hour boat ride) , often referred to as Siberian Riviera due to the great number of sunshine observed here ( mid annual temperature here is positive - +0.4 Celcium) . Upon arrival at Peschanaya Bay enjoy a guided walk to the Babushka Bay, the Small Bell tower Craig to take pictures of panoramic views on the taiga-woods of Cedar Pass and other  natural settings here.  Dinner featuring some famous Baikal specialties served back on board. Then you’re welcome to join the Baikal Songs Lesson 1 to be given by your guide – a chance for you to learn some popular Russian songs about Lake Baikal and Siberia . Overnight on board.


 

Lake Baikal is between 51 29’N and 55 46’N latitude and 103 41’E and 109 57’E longitude. It is about 636 km long and about 80 km wide. Its broadest point is located between the villages of Onguryon on the Western shore and Ust-Barguzin on the eastern shore, and its narrowest point is between the Selenga River Delta and the opposite Western shore. The length of the coastline is about 2,100 km. There are 30 rocky islands on the lake, the biggest one being Olkhon Island which is more than 130 km2 in area. Legend has it that Olkhon Island is the birthplace of Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan.


Day 3
 
Breakfast served on board while we continue further along your cruise to Khuzhir settlement on Olkhon Island (the biggest and only permanently inhabited Island on the lake). En route stop to see famous  Tsagan Zaba White Marble Cliffs to see the rock drawings\ petrogliphs 2500 years old which  depict the scenes from the life of shamanistic believers. After lunch on board we reach the Olkhon Island to enjoy its stunning scenery. Although the island is quite narrow, half of it lengthways is forest and the other half steppe. It also features the famous Shaman Rock to which we undertake an easy walk through Khuzhir village. The Shaman Rock well-known for the so-called “The Buddha Rock of Altar” is one of Holy of Hollies of shamanists and Buddhist alike.  Here you will be met by the locally famous practicing “White Shaman” who will perform the rite of purification for you and involve you in the ritual of offering to the deities of lake Baikal and the Islands major spirits. After the ceremony we’ll have discussion on the Shamanism of Siberia, its philosophy and outlook. Then – enjoy Siberian Banya (steam sauna). Dinner on board followed by the Baikal Songs Lesson # 2.  Before we go to bed we’ll come out on to the deck when passing near the deepest point of lake Baikal ( 1642 m). Overnight on board.


 

 

Olkhon Island.   Mid-way on the northern shore of Baikal is an area considered to be the most sacred. It is here, about eight miles from the north shore that we find Olkhon, named by the Buryats for the forests which cover the island. Olkhon is the biggest island on Baikal extending more than 70 km. (60 miles) in length and up to 20 km. (15 miles) in width. Its terrain is varied with sweeping prairies, steep rocks, dry valleys overgrown with berry bushes and small, shallow bays with sandy beaches and warm water. The island's steep sides cut into the aquamarine sea-lake and its capes are like characters out of ancient Siberian folk-tales guarding the island's peace. The most beautiful of these capes, Burchan, bears the name of the Buryats' primary god. The bank closest to Burchan has a cave which cuts through the rock. The entrance is on the eastern side and the exit on the western one. Native people considered the cave a sacred place, a dwelling of shamans. The cave is, however, now inscribed with Buddhist prayers, remnants of seventeenth century arrival of Tibetan Lamaist Buddhism. The new religion partly absorbed the native shamanistic traditions and partially replaced them. The first words of one prayer read, "Ou, Burchan, Tingiri!", invoking the Buryat-Lamaist's god and heaven.

 

 

 

Day 4

Breakfast on board. Then we proceed to the Ushkanyi Islands where you will have a chance to observe the lake’s only mammals and mystery of Baikal to be unraveled – the fresh water seals – locally called “nerpas”. After lunch  served on board we get to the Ushkanyi Island to disembark here and escorted by local forest ranger we sneak to the Island’s flat underwater rocks where seals like to stay most of their time while they are near here.  After seeing the seals we get back on the boat to continue another 50 km to the Zavorotnaya Bay. We have dinner here. Then and after a brief lecture on know-how’s of local fishing techniques we go for the evening fishing to catch Baikal black grayling and, perhaps, omul-fish.
Overnight on the boat.

    
  

The mystery of how the Nerpa came to Baikal still baffles scientists. Apart from being a freshwater reservoir, Lake Baikal is hundreds of miles from any other sea or ocean. Most believe that thousands of years ago, the salt water of the Arctic Ocean stretched into the lower reaches of the Yenisey up to the mouth of the Angara. Many scientists agree that the seal belongs to the Tertiary fauna, and most likely migrated to the region during the early stages of the period when the Baikal Depression formed. It is thought that in search for food, the seals gradually migrated deeper into the mainland. There have been years when scientists have counted nearly one hundred thousand nerpa in and around the lake. Valued for their soft, warm pelts and fat, the seals have been hunted for thousands of years. For centuries ethnic Buryats living around the lake have hunted seals, venturing out on the treacherous ice in the spring just after the pups, known as kumutkans, were born. It is a tradition that has been passed from father to son. The meat was eaten or preserved for the long winters ahead. Skins were used to cover canoes and the fur for clothing. Nothing was wasted, and the catch was small enough that the seal population was not threatened…

 

Day 5

After breakfast we’ll be already approaching   the so-called “Coast of Brown Bears” in the premises of Baikalo-Lensky Nature Preserve. Here, especially in June, one can often observe the brown bears that come out from the taiga-woods to feed on the water-flies- (Baikal sedge) - the bears’ early summer delicacy.  This day we shall cover over 90 km. Following the shore that is covered by the Great Baikal Trail We shall proceed to the Cape of Kotelnikovsky famed for the thermal springs and beautiful scenery. Upon reaching them – enjoy the warm springs before dinner and after dinner – another chance to have a good catch of Baikal fish shall be provided for you by the crew.  

 The Baikalo-Lensky  Nature reserve was found in 1986 on the western shore of the lake Baikal, opposite the Bargusinsky Nature Reserve. It includes the upper basin of the River Lena and its tributaries - the Kirenga, the Tongoda, the Maly Anoy and Bolshoy Anoy. All these rivers begin in the Baikal Mountain Range. The nature reservestretches along the Lake Baikal bank for 100 km. The mountain tundras with high mountain meadows are successed with krummholz thickets of cedar pine woodlands. In the lower belt light coniferous taiga is construed of  pine and larch, with the poplar and Chosenia growing in the valleys. Cedar, fir, larch and spruce prevail in the tree flora on the western slopes of the Baikalsky mountain range and in the lower dark coniferous forests.The pride of zapovednik is brown bear. In June, several animals can be observed simultaneously on the Baikal shore (therefore, this nature reserve is often called "the coast of brown bears"). Another reserve's inhabitants are: roebuck, reindeer, black-capped marmot and Baikal seal. Bird species of special concern include osprey, white-tailed sea-eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, Chinese scrub warbler and Eastern solitary snipe. One can meet various fish species (Arctic grayling, taimen, round and Siberian whitefishes) in the rivers and streams of the Reserve.

 

Day 6

After breakfast we continue to Severobaikalsk ( 70 km) to enjoy the sights of northern Baikal shores. After lunch on board and then arrival in the town of Severobaikalsk we check out from the boat and  drive by van to the tour the city. We shall have a guided tour the Museum of BAM-construction (Baikal-Amur Railway) and local picture gallery. After a short walk to explore the down town of Severobaikalsk we will have dinner at the local “Russ’” pub famous for its own brewery – here  the Baikal northernmost beer is made.  During the dinner you will be welcome to take part in “The Baikal Best Singing Duet of The Trip” followed by award.  After dinner – transfer to the railway station to board the train to Irkutsk.
22:35 – departure by train to Irkutsk. Overnight on the train.
(Total train riding time from Severobaikalsk to Irkutsk is 32 and a half hours.The train is operated on each uneven date)

Day 7

Full-day trip on  along the rails of famous BAM railroad – the feast of the Soveit railway engeneering passing by stations of Kunerma, Ulkan, Lena, Ust-Kut, Bratsk, Chuna, Taishet and Zima on the way to Irkutsk while your informative guide will tell you many interesting and fabulous facts about the places you go by. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and overnight on the train.

Day 8

07:06 – early morning arrival in Irkutsk. Meeting and assistance at the railway station. Transfer to the airport to take flight to Moscow.


 

 

 Baikal Amur Mainline

 

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (Russian Baikal Amur Magistral, BAM) is a railway line in Russia. Traversing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, the 4,234 km (2,305 m.) long BAM runs about 380 to 480 miles north of and parallel with the Trans-Siberian railway. The route of the present-day BAM was first considered in the 1880s as an option for the eastern section of the Trans-Siberian railway. BAM departs from the Trans-Siberian railway at Taishet (Tayshet), then crosses Angara at Bratsk, crosses Lena, proceeds past Severobaikalsk on the northern tip of Lake Baikal, past Tynda and Khani, crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure and finally reaches the Pacific Ocean at Sovetskaya Gavan.  BAM was built as a strategic alternative route to the Trans-Siberian Railway, especially to the vulnerable sections which are close to the border with China. The section from Tayshet to Bratsk was built in the 1930s. Most of the Eastern section was built during the years 1944-1946, mainly by the gulag prisoners, including German and Japanese prisoners of war, of whom possibly as many as 150,000 died. In 1953, following Stalin's death, virtually all construction work on the BAM stopped and the line was abandoned to the elements for more than twenty years. In March 1974, Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev stated that a new BAM project would become a huge Komsomol undertaking. In September 1984, a "golden spike", akin to one used in Utah in 1867, was hammered into place, connecting the eastern and western sections of the BAM. No Western media were invited to attend this historic event as Soviet officials did not want any questions asked about the line's operational status and working conditions of the construction workers. In reality, only one third of the BAM's track was fully operational at the time of opening, and the forced labor was still widely used. BAM was finally declared complete in 1991.  ( from Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia)

 

 

 

 

Departure dates in 2005 from Irkutsk : 18/06, 9/07, 30/07, 18/08/2004 г.

 

Notes:

The type of boat to be used: ocean-type, Soviet  made “Yaroslavets” , newly renovated ( length – 24 m, width- 4 m, cruise speed – 18 km an hour,  3 passenger cabins to accommodate each 3, 4 and 5  pax – total 12 guests; each of the 4 cabins has a toilet and shower. On the upper deck there’s a spacious loung; the boat has a jet-boat, rescue raft, life jackets for all, is equipped for safe all-weather navigation, water skis and fishing tackles available on board.

 
 
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