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Olkhon - the heart of Baikal

Olkhon is the heart of the Baikal. Even in shape it reminds the outlines of the lake. It’s the largest Baikal’s island; its length is 71 km, width – about 12 km, and its area is 730 square kilometers. It is separated from the west bank of the lake by the Strait Olkhon, Gates and the small lake. The island is situated near the deepest place of the Baikal (1637m).

“Wild Olkhon”

Olkhon has a great variety of landscapes of the Baikal’s nature. There is a steppe with deep and warm bays in summer, almost “Baltic” sandy beaches with dunes, hills and pine groves of larches along the bank. There are also dense forests with surviving fir-grove and stern, marble scales with red thick moss. Olkhon landscapes of wild nature are nice and majestic. That’s why they attract a lot of painters and photographs.

Back to the Extreme Antiquity

In myths and legends of Burats Olkhon is considered to have terrible ghosts. Here according to the legends, Khan-Khato Babai came down to the Earth from the sky, he was sent by the Supreme Beings. His son Khan-Khubu Noyion lived here in appearance of a white-haired golden eagle. He was the first to receive the gift of shaman.

Olkhon was considered to be a sacral centre of the shaman world. And even today the ribbons in the trees are trembling near the Cape Burkhan (the crag Shamanka), at the bank of the lake near the settlement Khuzhir, it was a place where people worshiped ghosts.

According to the old legends the master of the island (Ezhin or Burkhan) lived in the cave of the Crag Shamanka. Izhimei (1300m), the highest mountain of the island, was also considered to be a holy place. They say somewhere at the foot of the mountain an immortal bear was chained.

The Outlines of Olkhon

The north extremity of Olkhon steeply falls into cool waters of Baikal by the Cape Khoboi. Khoboi is a “tusk” in Buryat language. And indeed there is a high, cliffy crag before the heading of the cape. From the South the outlines of the crag remind of a grand female figure with well outlined head, nose, chin and breast.

Local Settlements

Two not very small settlements Khuzhir and Kharantsy are situated on the island. Between the capes Izhimei and Khoboi there is one more settlement Uzury, but there you can find only few houses. The majority of the population (the Russians and the Buryats) is fishermen. In summer they fish in a boat and in winter – on the ice. Under the holes they put the tarpaulin tents known as “kamchatkas” in which fishermen draw fishing nets full of silver Arctic ciscoes  (on the island in the winter 2001 its price was 2 rubles each).

Tourists are Welcomed!

Inhabitants treat tourists well. In general the Siberians are very hospitable. In a settlement there are few groceries where you can buy main products from cereals to vodka (by the way the vodka is very good as it’s made from the Baikal’s water). There is a so-called hotel, but it’s just a doleful wooden barrack without canteen. In summer on the island there are lots of tourists from Irkutsk. In picturesque bays you can stay in a tent. In August the water is warm (about +18C). On the island there are no dangerous animals and encephalitic ticks. Officially the largest part of the island is a reserved area. But if tourists are careful to the nature they are always welcomed.

A Winter Dream of Olkhon

In winter there are few tourists there, but still there are some visitors in the country estate of Bencharov. In winter you can also be impressed by the winter beauty of Baikal and Olkhon. There you can enjoy fabulous icy places on crags, the brightness of the icy Baikal in the beams of red, setting sun… There are marvelous, crystal-clear ice-hummocks sometimes even with a bluish play of colors… Of course you can see this magic winter Siberian nature on our pictures but you should see it with your own eyes at least once!