Lake Baikal — the greatest monument of primeval nature, he has no equal in the world, its scientists determine the age of 20-30 million years! Visit Baikal you without any exaggeration, you can touch eternity! Baikal striking beauty, rich flora and fauna, its uniqueness and originality. It is estimated that 60% of the 2,630 species of animals, fish and plants found in the lake are unique, you will not find them anywhere else in the world.
Among them golomyanka viviparous fish, salmon, seals — seals of the family, still do not know how Baykal.5 caught in December 1996 Lake Baikal is included as a natural site in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
That’s all that pristine nature, the lack of civilization, especially the climatic conditions and determine the specificity of rest on Lake Baikal.
Historical excursion you can start with the «heart» of the city, the place where in XVII century Irkutsk fortress was founded. It’s on the right bank of the Angara river, at the confluence of rivers Irkut and Ushakovka. Now there is war memorial Eternal flame. The church of our savior is the oldest stone structure in Eastern Siberia. Worship services are held there. Also there is photo exposition devoted to all the churches of Irkutsk. Not far from the Church of our Savior there is the Church of the Epiphany. It was built in the beginning of XVIII century. Worship services are held there. You can visit it. There are beautiful frescos on the walls. Also you can see Polish Cathedral. It’s the only building in gothic style from the Urals to the Pacific. Now there is organ hall of Irkutsk philharmonic society. The organ was brought from Germany and installed there in 1978. War memorial Eternal flame is devoted to Siberian warriors who died during the Great Patriotic War. The memorial was opened 8 May 1975. There is a grey building of Irkutsk region administration. At this place before 1932 there was the biggest church of Irkutsk, the Church of our Lady of Kazan. It was the main temple of Irkutsk in 1894. It was blown up in 1932. After this we can go to Kirov square. Many celebrations and parades are held here. In winter a big Christmas tree decorates this area. Close to Kirov square there is Irkutsk Linguistic university, The city hall with Mayor’s office, Angara Hotel. One more place that is worth visiting is The Holy Sign Convent. There is miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and relics of the first bishop of Irkutsk St. Innocent there. On the territory of the convent there are graves of some Decembrists, of their relatives and some Siberian merchants. In 2004 a special place of interest appeared near The Holy Sign Convent. That’s a monument of Alexander Kolchak (by architect Klikov). The monument is situated very close to the place where 7 February 1920 red soldiers killed the admiral and put his body into the river. Then we can go to the central street of Irkutsk Karl Marx street. It used to have a name Big street. It’s about 2 km. During the great fire of 1879 all wooden houses on the street were burnt. After that all the buildings on this street were built out of stone. You will see mansions of late XIX, buildings of former guest houses, art museum of Irkutsk, cinema theatres and interesting other things. The street leads to Angara river, to the famous monument of Russian tzar Alexander III. That’s a perfect place for a walk. Also here you can see «White house» and ethnological museum.
Physical and geographic characteristics of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal and its catchment area belong to the unique ecosystems of the world. Baikal is located in the central part of eastern Siberia, near the geographical center of Asia conditional. Mountain Hollow Lake is the most important natural borders of Siberia. In this area converge borders of different floral and faunal habitats, creating not have analogues biogeocenoses.
Lake Baikal — one of the great lakes of the world, lake of superlatives: the deepest (1637 m) and oldest (about 25 million years), which contains the largest number of endemic species (more than 1000 species) and species of flora and fauna (more than 2600 species ) inhabiting the fresh waters of the Earth. The lake has a unique on ob’emu (tys.kub.km 23,6) and the quality of fresh surface water (20% of the world). The basin of Lake Baikal is the central element of the Baikal rift zone, the new and developing simultaneously with the global rift system. Several factors suggest that the lake is emerging ocean. Unusually mild climate of the Baikal in Siberia to the coasts — the number of sunny days are higher than on many Black Sea resorts. In Baikal falls 336 rivers (Selenga, Barguzin top. Angara, etc.), and follows one-Angara.
The entire lake basin (total drainage area 557 square kilometers, of which 332 — in Russia) is a special and very fragile natural geosystems, the basis of which is the system of the lake with him his natural process of forming the cleanest water of drinking quality.
Lake Baikal — the largest lake in the world
Lake Baikal — one of the greatest lakes in the world, the largest freshwater lake in Russia. Its length — 636 kilometers of water surface area — 31500 square kilometers. Baikal in 1,7 times more Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe. Among the freshwater lakes in the world it occupies the sixth place. Over his two African lakes — Victoria and Tanganyika, and three of the five U.S. Great Lakes — Superior, Huron and Michigan.
Baikal — not only one of the largest lakes, but also the deepest lake in the world. As already mentioned, its maximum depth of 1637 meters.
Maximum depth of Tanganyika — 1435 meters, Issyk-Kul — 702. On Earth, only 8 lakes have a depth exceeding 500 meters (L. Rossolimo).
Tanganyika — fresh water body, but its water contains high content of magnesium salts. The entire thickness of the fresh waters deeper than 800 meters can be studied only in Lake Baikal.
Average depth of the lake is also very high — 730 feet. It exceeds the maximum depth of many very deep lakes. That is what determines the supply of water in Lake Baikal.
Lake Baikal — the largest on the water resources of the Earth’s fresh water lake. Its volume — 23 600 cu. kilometers, which is about 20% of fresh lake waters of the planet — far more than all freshwater lakes in the world. The volume of the latter amounts to 123 thousand cubic kilometers of water. Lake Baikal is more water than all five Great American lakes combined. Baikal water volume is almost two times more than in Lake Tanganyika, is 90 times more than in the Azov Sea, 23 times — than in Lake Ladoga. Based on the current needs of people in the water of 500 liters per person per day, Baikal water for about 40 years can provide the entire population of the Earth (GN Galazii, 1984).
Legends and myths of Baikal
Geological features of the structure of Lake Baikal
The most remarkable feature of the Baikal — its antiquity. Given the deep relict endemism of the fauna of the lake, most researchers define its age of 20-30 million years. The vast majority of lakes, especially the glacial and oxbow origin, live 10-15 thousand years, then filled with sediments, tightened splavinami and sooner or later turn into swamps, and then dry. Investigations in recent years have allowed geophysicists to hypothesize that the Baikal, the opposite is emerging ocean. This is confirmed by the fact that its banks diverge at speeds up to 2 cm per year, just as divergent continents of Africa and South America, the shores of the Mediterranean and Red seas, etc. In addition to the active movements of the crust in the region of Lake Baikal observed a significant magnetic anomalies along the its axis. These anomalies are comparable in scale with similar anomalies in the mid-Atlantic fracture. The lake has many features typical of the ocean — abyssal depths, an enormous mass of water, internal waves and seiches, tides, severe storms, high waves, the expansion of the basin by parting the coast, large quantities of magnetic anomalies, etc.
The lake lies in the Baikal basin — a bottomless bowl of stone, on all sides surrounded by mountains. Depression of medium-framed mountain ranges and Seashore Baikal — on the west side, Barguzinsky (with a maximum height of 2840 meters) and Hamar-Daban — on the east and south-east. The depth of the depression is determined by the height of the mountains above it, the depth of the lake and its bottom line the thickness of unconsolidated sediments. Layer of lake sediments in some places reaches 6000 meters, and its volume is twice the volume of the lake and reaches 46 000 cubic miles. It is easy to calculate that the depth of the crystal bed Baikal reaches 8 — 9 kilometers.
The deepest point of the root baths Baikal lies approximately at 7000 meters below sea level. Baikal basin — the deepest hollow on the earth’s land. Its «roots» cut through the entire crust and go into the upper mantle at a depth of 50-60 kilometers.
Flora and fauna
Lake Baikal 848 species of endemic animals — 60% and 133 species of endemic plants — 15%. Fully endemic to Lake Baikal, 11 families and subfamilies, 96 genera, uniting about 1000 species. All this allows to allocate the lake in the Baikal sub-area of the Holarctic, the equivalent of a vast area of the Euro-Siberian subregion.
Nature of Baikal
Even in June, ice-floes, the rearguard of a long and severe winter, still hide on the northern side of Baikal. Porous and brittle, they stick hard to their positions. On each white spot amid the deep aquamarine space, dark, downy seals bask in the sun, rubbing their sides and grunting with pleasure. Meanwhile, in the south, the clear waters glitter challengingly, the lilac-coloured Daurian rhododendron, or bagulnik, as it is called locally, sets the hill slopes aflame, the larches shed their old needles and grow new ones, each branch surrounded by a soft, pure radiance. The taiga becomes festive. The birds sing songs in many different voices, and animals stream towards Baikal to wash away their winter fears in its healing waters.
The water is still cold, just one or two degrees Centigrade above zero. Even in the south it will only mid-June, when the surface waters will be as cold as the depths, which remain permanently at the same temperature, while this temperature will be reached a month later in the north. And all this in a region that is only second to California in total annual solar radiation. For instance, in the Baikal village of Goloustnoye, the sun shines 2,583 hours a year, whereas in southern Pyatigorsk, the figure is only 2,007.
The Baikal yellowfin gobies have spawned in spring already, some time in March; in June comes the time of the podkamenshchik, or bullhead; they live among fragments of rock near the shore, hiding their spawn on the under-surface of the stones. As is the custom, each nest, each piscine maternity house, is guarded by a knight protecting future offspring and ready to join battle with anyone, be it relation or stranger, even unto death. The shores of Baikal retain in mid-June the memory of winter; the icy water cools the surrounding air. The cold breath of the sea-lake slows down the growth of trees and grasses that have courageously and insolently run up to the very surf line, but somewhat farther away the sharp scent of berry bushes becomes stronger and stronger, the blossoms of kashkara shine yellow (another variety of Siberian rhododendron, it has medicinal properties), and the first zharki, a local variety of Asiatic globe flower, suddenly erupt like yellow flames-even on misty days, they shine on their tall, supple stalks like bits of molten lava. With each passing day, this torchlight procession marches up the mountain slopes and over the open clearings, and there is at least one little spark under each larch. Only where the needles lie thick on the ground, does a cool half-light still reign, and you can see dark snowdrifts living out their days under a layer of fallen needles and bark flakes.
The boundary between mixed, light coniferous and dark coniferous taiga becomes more sharply defined. Frail-looking, rejuvenated larches, silver birches shooting towards the sun their bright new leaves, chozenia, otherwise called Daurian willow or balsam poplar-all these grow in the light taiga. It covers a range of shades from bleached blue and gold to pure green; the colours are soft and cheerful, as if it were a kindly, open southern forest and not the Siberian taiga at all. But then the idyllic picture is broken up by a stretch of silver fir, and higher up there are cedars, fir-trees and the ascetic colours of the dark-needle taiga, ranging from deep green to deep blue and lustreless black. Yet even among the malachite undulations of the light taiga as it is disturbed by the Baikal winds, the dark shapes of Siberian cedar pitch and toss like fishing boats at sea, and you can see silver birch groves against the dark-taiga background. The air over Baikal is stratified: the coldest layer lies near the surface of the water, and the warmer ones above. Streams of warm air blow from the sun-warmed taiga into the hollow; they cut their way into the cooler spaces and mix with the icy currents; the moisture condenses and fogs fill the bowl of the sea, not daring to overflow its rim. As you stand on the sunlit shore above the white cloud covering the sea, you hear ships calling to one another in alarm as they grope their way through the dense shroud. When the season of Baikal fogs sets in, that means that it is already July.s
Late in June, in July and August, multicoloured tents arc pitchcd among the shoreline scrub and on the wild cliffs, like the nests of strange birds. Thousands of hikers come to Baikal to drink its water aqd to take home with them the memory of ils inspired image-the sunlight on the ripples, the mysteriously glittering water, gfcenish as a herb cordial, the sand washed clean in the twenty-five million years of Baikal’s existence, the stones polished with time, the pine-trees climbing the heights, the downy, ash-coloured carpets of lichen, the many-coloured undulations of the taiga, pine-tree taiga, fir-tree taiga, the cliffs overgrown with trailing cedars whose interlaced, prehensile branches can tear the clothes off anyone who tries to penetrate into their midst.
Baikal will open its palace doors for the enchanted traveller; it will open its hidden bays, each of them quite unlike any other, as if mother Nature had gathered them from various parts of the world-the White Sea and the Black Sea, the North Sea and the Mediterranean, just to fit them into the two-thousand-kilometre-long shoreline
Peschanaya Bay was created according to all the rules of harmony, with its clean, curving shoreline, two rocky capes like signal towers-Cape Bolshoi Kolokolny and Cape Maly Kolokolny, and incredible larches that seem to run on stilts along the velvety beach. It is shielded from wind by the stone hands of the cliffs behind its back. Imagination has found amongst (hem a Buddha, a gendarme, and so on, giving a name to each mountain and hill. If you climb Observation Cliff, you can see smaller coves-Dedushka (Grandfather)* Babushka (Grandmother), Vnuchka (Granddaughter), a whole world of intimate human relations introduced in the toponymies of the glorious sea. After the severe beauty of Peschanaya Bay, Posolskaya Bay seems quite open and spacious, like the bays of the southern Crimea, with iti long sand bars< /p> out to the sea, and an ancient temple founded two centuries ago on the spot where a Russian embassy perished (hence the name of the bay). The Decembrist, going to the Nerchinsk penal colony were taken across Baikal in sailing boats, and their memoirs tell of severe storms from which they were saved by the quiet of the bay, wher? the РєР°РіС†Р°РЅ served as natural protection against the unbridled wave. Such is Posolsky Cove or theas it is locally known. This word is used in Siberia to denote a nearly land-locked cove with its own local climate, algae and fish,On the north-western shore of Baikal the visitor can find shelter in Davihe~just a few houses in a spacious clearing shielded on three sides by the woods and on the fourth by Baikal. But the road into the taiga is closed. Here the game preserve begins, where the animals and birds hear no shots and the fish know not what a net is~a virgin corner of the earth, with the world as it win thousands of years before us. The Bargu/in Preserve has kept alive in the taiga the sable and the bear, the tiny Sorex weighing two grammes, and the heavy but light-footed elk. the nimble squir-rel and the sneaky lynx. Baikal’s whole world, from ft pebble polished by rollers to the Alpine poppies entered in the Kcd Book, is unique. Vou arc so fearful of harming its vulnerable that you want to keep saying all the time: Careful, this is Baikal
The area which pays Baikal its water tribute is not really very great-557,000 square kilometres, slightly bigger than Spain or France. Rivulets, so small that they dry up in the July heat and are stopped by the first frost, hurry down from the heights with their gifts to the grand old man. More water is brought by other streams that are also not so mighty, but each is famous in its own way: the sarma wind comes rushing down the valley of one; in the valley of another, the Turka, there are hot mineral springs, and visitors come to the small health resort of Goryachinsk for treatment. In the old days, anyone who was cured left a stone as a gift, and entire pyramids were formed in this way. The modest Pokhabikha, so named in honour of the pioneer Yakov Pokhabov and his brother Ivan, will sometimes be swollen by a mud avalanche-a mixture of water, grey mud, and stones-and will carry it all down, destroying everything in its path. These rivers are quiet, carry little water, and only for so long. But if the August rains last longer than usual, then the streams become raging torrents, overflowing their banks and rushing into Baikal at breakneck speed.
It has long been debated just how many tributaries Baikal has. In the 1950s scientists estimated the number at 336; today, it is around 300. But, although only three-the Selenga, the Verkhnyaya Angara, and the Barguzin-carry three-quarters of the annual run-off (58.8 cu.km of water), the missing quarter is supplied by these small rivers.
The territory of a protected preserve lies north of the 387-km-long valley of the Barguzin and of its tributaries. Lush, untrodden grasses grow here, rare ferns carpet the ground, and game-wardens cut the green grass solely to fill tall, wedge-shaped feeding-racks with heady-scented hay in winter, when deep snows threaten the animal population with hunger, so that a hare can nibble at the very bottom, a roe or a kabarga (small musk deer) a little higher, and a long-legged elk can feed from the top. The Barguzin Preserve is one of the oldest not only in Siberia but in the whole of the USSR. When the sable disappeared from the hunting-grounds of the boundless taiga, so rich in birds and animals, it was decided to save the world-famous sable of the Barguzin region, distinguished for its dark and beautiful pelt. In 1916, a vast tract of the earth’s surface with mountains, rivers and untouched taiga, was declared a game-preserve. Its area is
over 260,000 hectares. The three-kilometre stretch of the Baikal shore has also become a preserve where fishing is forbidden over an area of 15,000 hectares-the whole land of the Podlemorye (as these parts are known among the local population) with its special laws.
Originally created for the protection of the sable, it subsequently, by decree of Soviet power, took on the protection of flora, fauna, trees and grasses in general.
In 1970, the Baikal Preserve, with an area of 165,000 hectares, was created in the territory of Buryatiya adjacent to the lake. The northernmost river of Baikal, the Verkhnyaya Angara, carries twice as much water as the Barguzin, but this river, which supplies 14 per cent of the annual run-off, seems small compared to the Selenga. A small stream born in the steppes of Mongolia, the Selenga gathers strength, absorbing the waters of small rivers and streams along the route, and, having travelled a distance of 1,590 kilometres, runs into Baikal in a mighty stream that is slow to mingle its own yellowish waters with the pale blue of the lake. The rivers, large and small, are the spawning grounds of the omulI the trout of Siberia-the grayling, the sig, and the sturgeon. In wave after wave the fish come up the swift-moving streams, spawn, and then return to Baikal to regain their strength in the peace and quiet of the green depths.
What strikes you at the first meeting with Baikal is its majestic dignity. Set in a ring of mountains clad in the many-coloured and many-scented taiga, its blue expanses heave freely and easily, lifting up their foamless waves near the rocky shoreline; but this unhurried movement conceals enormous strength, the only kind that can allow itself the luxury of peace and quiet.
Baikal is infinitely changeable, it is always new and always different. If a bank of white fog comes down or the tints of the sky change ever so slightly, or the wind gingerly touches its tense, smooth surface, the quiet grandeur will give way to harshness, to be followed by a lyrical mood; after that, a festive light will illumine it all the way across from shore to shore. That will be the sun pushing aside the clouds, when the water, kindled by the shafts of, light, will flare up, as if the fiery furnaces of the sky were pouring molten metal into a stone ladle-the vessel that contains Baikal. A dense mist covers the distant shore and the burning water seems to hang in mid-air, startlingly, fiercely brilliant. Then the light will sink into the depths, the surface will turn slate-black, dense and heavy; but a hidden flame will light the water up from within, imbuing it with life and mystery. The haze will suddenly break up and the opposite shore will move so close that you will want to touch each fold in the mountains and each tree; you will find it hard to believe that those hilltops and trees are forty or even fifty kilometres away; the incredibly transparent air will shorten distance like a magnifying glass. The opposite shore will become water-colour blue, semi-transparent, with the light blue dabs of the eternal snows on the mountaintops and in the valleys. Lone fishing boats will sail over the dense, dark waters, little white steamships will rock and sound their whistles, scarlet and grey launches will purr, leaving graceful curves in their wake, and these lines will gradually be smoothed out and erased. Then the sea will turn over on its bed and hit the rocks with a sudden wave that will break up into a diamond firework display. You can stand on the shore of Baikal all day and all your life without ever seeing Baikal the same twice. Watching these infinite metamorphoses, you come to understand why the coastal dwellers speak respectfully and apprehensively of it as a living being, believing, for instance, that Baikal may become offended or angry if it is called a lake. The Siberians call it a sea, as in the old song that begins, «Glorious sea, most sacred Baikal». Crossing Baikal, Nikolai Spafarii, who was Tsar Aleksei Mi-khailovich’s ambassador and one. of the first to tell the world about the Siberian wonder, wrote in the last quarter of the 17th century, «Baikal may be called a sea for the reason that its magnitude, lengthwise, crosswise and in depth, is very great. And it may be called a lake, because its water is fresh, not salty . . . and its depth is great, for soundings were taken on many occasions, a hundred fathoms or more, but the bottom was not to be reached . . . And the water in it is exceeding pure, so that the bottom can be seen at many fathoms, and it is very beneficial to health.»
Spafarifs modern successors have measured the length of Baikal: 636 kilometres north to south, the distance between Moscow and Leningrad; maximum width-81 kilometres; maximum depth-1,620 metres. They established that it contains one fifth of all the fresh water on our planet and explained its origin. For a long time now, the lake has attracted travellers and scientists, many of whom devoted their whole lives to research on Baikal. Their achievements and names are preserved in human memory and in books, and scientific research vessels bearing their names sail over the lake today.
A systematic study of Baikal began in 1919. when a stationary Baikal Expedition of the USSR Academy of Sciences was set up at Bolshiye Koty. The Limnological Institute of the Siberian Department of the USSR Academy of Sciences was founded in 1961: this is engaged in interdisciplinary research on Baikal. The scientists of this institute have solved many of the lake s mysteries, but by no means all.
We are still trying to solve the riddle of Baikal’s restless beauty, a beauty that brings moral renovation, purity and strength, a beauty that is as majestic as the universe and as inexhaustible as the human soul.
Great is the desire of the earth to cover up its nakedness. It clothes the bare stones of the mountain summits with snow and glaciers, and where the reign of the eternal Alpine cold ends, the rocks and grey, inhospitable boulders are stained green, red, black and sun-golden by the unpretentious lichens. Farther down the earth is dotted with faded pelts of Iceland moss, and the Alpine meadows are carpeted with many-coloured flowers. The trees climb up the sheer slopes with a kind of desperate courage. They fasten their roots round a handful of earth inside a crack in a stone monolith, the winds and the rains twist them round and try to uproot them, but the trees grow and survive, even though starving, twisted, bent double and winded by the hurricane; for their roots strike into the rock, and in alliance with the frost, the heat, the wind, and the rain, they split the crag with the wedges of their roots.
And if they lose their hold and fall, their bark ripped off against the ribs of the scree, Baikal gives them a joyous welcome, playfully throwing them from wave to wave, now driving them inshore, now carrying them out into the open, until the captive becomes imprisoned in the circular current; the waters of the Siberian sea continually run their eternal counterclockwise course, from south to north along the eastern coast and north to south along the western one. For a long time the tree floats on the blue waters, gaining weight and losing more of its bark until one windy night or day the old man, after playing with it to his heart’s content, beaches it somewhere, so that you might think that the tusks of fossil mammoths and skeletons of prehistoric animals are lying among the bushes, completely covering the grey shingle. Below the Alpine meadows is the kingdom of the taiga with its five-hundred-year-old cedars, the patriarchs of the Baikal woods, their trunks so big that three men could not encompass one of them, with its wide-crowned shaggy larches oozing their thick resin, and with its young birch-trees taut as strings or bent by heavy snowfalls into white bows.
The nutcracker bird is called the sower of the taiga. Indeed, when laying in stores of cedar nuts, it buries them in the ground according to a pattern that only the bird itself understands. But the bird later finds only some of its caches, and the seeds, waking up in the earth, send up hard green spikes of flame. It may have been birds and it may have been the wind that carried larch seeds to the sands of Peschanaya Bay many centuries ago and gave birth to yet another wonder of Baikal-the so-called trees on stilts. The tiny larch, sticking out of the yellow sand like a supple green paw, is defenceless, but this defencelSssness is exactly what saves it: it bends with the wind and then straightens up again. But its roots grow wide rather than deep, and so the cunning wind begins to dig away the sand from under the tree, day after day, month after month, year in, year out. The roots are gradually laid bare and, to survive, the tree drives them deeper and deeper into the ground, the wind keeps blowing away the sand, and soon the tree looks as if it were mounted on stilts. Once exposed to the light, the roots harden, becoming a part of the trunk, which now branches out both above and below, so that the larches and pines eventually tower over the sands like many-legged giraffes. Scattered here and there over the taiga there are juniper bushes, pale-green and grey with the dark beads of their berries. There is a custom among Siberian men-if you want to prove your love for a girl, you must walk barefoot over the prickly juniper branches. If you want to prove your courage, try struggling through a thicket of trailing cedar. This strangely interwoven shrub has cones growing on it, just like a cedar's, only smaller in size. Closer to Baikal, it reaches a height of three metres and more, the bushes growing apart; but the higher you climb, the denser are the branches, the more firmly do they cling to one another, and the denser and more impassable the thicket becomes. These are the wardens of the Alpine meadows, where rare edelweisses grow, Alpine poppies, now in the Red Book, rockfoil, and other unique plants.
For a long time yet, Baikal will preserve the warmth accumulated during the summer, unhurriedly and thriftily giving it to the air. In summer, it is colder near Baikal than in the adjacent areas; in autumn, it is five occasionally as much as ten degrees Centigrade warmer. Even when the ground is white, Baikal will still be warm. In October, the thousand-armed wind hurls itself on the trees, for its time has come to reap a harvest. Leaves fly in sparkling streams, the larch needles come rustling down, and the streams and rivers hasten to carry the treasures of the forest to Baikal; but the wet leaves cling to the banks, to each twig, to each stone, unwilling to leave the taiga. The shoreline forest is lighter and more spacious now, and you can see what vast numbers of birds live here. In summer they whistled and sang apart from one another, little bundles of living matter scattered about these boundless spaces, each busy with its own affairs: searching lor food, hatching and bringing up their fledgelings; but instinct now gathers them into wedge-shaped flocks, and very soon they will cleave the skies. Eighty species of birds have been counted living in the coastal area. The wagtails leave the forest, but they will be among the very first to come back, bearing spring with them. It is believed in Siberia that the wagtail breaks up the ice with its little tail on arrival and the ice begins to drift. Later, the cranes, ducks and geese leave Baikal, the swans take to wing, and immediatdy afterwards, their feathers begin to flutter down: it is the first snow falling.
This first snow will melt and drain away, but it will become colder ai once; mingled with sleet the long, relentless rains will set in, and autumn will come into its own, changing the image of the taiga.
Squirrels lay in their last stores; soon they will have to change into winter coats; the chipmunk, a fast-moving little striped creature, has put by enough cedar seeds; bears are getting their lairs ready, by early November they will be enjoying their first animal dreams. The ermine is white before its time and stays in hiding now for fear of being caught by another and stronger predator, it is waiting anxiously for the snows to fall and make everything white.
Winter is approaching. But Baikal is sparkling as in summer; the trees are still flaming all round it and the red clusters of rowan-berries attract the birds that remain true to this severe land and never leave it: hazel-grouse, woodpeckers and capercaillie will stay here when the first blizzards blow, and they will survive the frosts, along with other birds wintering in Siberia, as becomes true natives.
Baikal goes to sleep late in winter. When the whole of Siberia is deep-frozen, with the temperatures around 40°C, Baikal is still battering the shores with its ice-cold waves, black with frost, yet trying to escape captivity; the freedom-loving old man is still rumbling and stirring restively in his bed. But winter is cunning; it settles on the rocks under the surface in the form of white caps and freezes solid, from top to bottom, all the tt?ry-the small inlets and coves that are so warm in the summer; it tries to fetter the waves and they begin rustling strangely as millions of minute spindles of ice roll about in them. These icicles that form in the overcool water are called 4rustle* (shorokh). The shelonnik whips up the waves, and they rustle. Other winds follow the shelonnik and lift the rustling water skywards, so that it no longer rings but roars, mingling the boom of breakers with the monotonous howling of the wind, smashing to bits any ice that has formed and pushing the icy mess ashore. The black waters also strain towards the stone ramparts of the hills, eager to lick the white foam of snow off the ground and take it back into the depths. But they only reach the rocks and boulders near the shore, for the frost catches hold of the waves and fetters them so that they freeze in flight, turning into lacy festoons of icicles.
Winter Baikal sculptor
Baikal in winter is a sculptor. It builds symbolic monuments on the shores by piling the glassily glittering ice-floes upon one another. The waves tossed by the mad winds of December clothe trees and bushes in milky nephrite shells that obliterate the small details.
The numerous stone grottoes and caves serve as material for the experiments of Baikal the sculptor. There are many of them, these cavities that have been hollowed out by waves in the precipitous cliffs and in some of which archaeologists have found objects once used by primitive man.
Baikal first covers the cliffs with lumpy greenish ice, and the caves seem like enormous black open mouths; then, to increase this likeness, the old man gives them teeth of thick, short semitrans-parent icicles left by the waves; next, as if ashamed of his own naturalistic inclinations, he closes the entrances to caves with solid yet exquisite lattices of crystal that continually change their shape, absorbing the lilac hues of morning, the blinding radiance of the day, or the cornelian flame of the sunset.
Before going to sleep for the long winter, he hangs the walls of his dwelling with snow-white skins, and in the gorges and crevasses builds organs of many pipes in which the wild voices of the kultuk, the barguzin, and the sarma are born.
When the winter storms begin, everything that lives hides in the depths, where it is much calmer, though the wind kneads the water with as much fervour as if it were trying to reach the very bottom. The lake is too deep, however, and the rocky bottom is overgrown with green sponges-yet another of Baikal’s mysteries, the denizens of the salt sea thriving in fresh water-the long tendrils of these animals look like fingers probing the darkness. There are large schools of sig and omul in underwater gorges, waiting for the storm to blow over. The tiny amphipod crustaceans strain the water: storm or no storm, the lake must always be pure.
Only in January does the old man’s strength fail him, and he lets the frost swaddle him, with a last effort pushing the shoreline ice onto the low ground and piling it up in hummocks. At first it is not strong, and when the fresh snow covers it, you can see the junctures between the ice-fields since the wet snow is dark and the surface of the lake becomes like a dappled hide. Only at the source of the Angara, that flows in a kilometre-w ide stream from under the hardening ice, does there remain an open, steaming 10-15-kilometre-long stretch of water. Tens of thousands of ducks winter here, feed, dive, live their own separate lives and spend the nights somewhere near the middle of Baikal by diving into the snowdrifts where it is warm and there is no wind. Hunters’ guns rarely bang here, for there is a certain solemnity about this game-preserve of nature’s own choosing.
The sky has been sawn up and the translucent blocks have been scattered among the cliffs on the shore-the white sky with the taut strings of clouds, the pale-blue sky, cold with winter frosts, the deep-blue sky of the summer, intense and mysterious, now transformed into sharp-ribbed surfaces piled up in chaotic stretches hundreds of kilometres long. When the sun begins to go down, the world changes and becomes warmer; the ice hummocks begin to radiate a tender crimson and scarlet luminescence from within and to cast lilac shadows on the snow. The ice ceases to be sky, seeming more like a frozen rainbow of the precious stones of secret underground treasure houses, where giant jewellers cut aquamarines, amethysts, sards, and rubies, tossing the polished gemstones at the feet of the dumbfounded pines.
No sooner have you crossed the ridge of ice-hummocks than a fresh joke of the Siberian sea will make you stop and your heart will sink with fear: you are on the brink of an abyss, dark, eternal, alluring, thinly covered by a fine crystal crust as transparent as a window-pane. «It’s as well that I stopped in time,» you will think; but you will be wrong. You take a step forward, overcoming the fear caused by the optical illusion: the ice is reliable and solid, up to two metres thick. It will carry a loaded lorry or a whole convoy. In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese war, sections of railway track were laid over the ice, joined up and used to transport from shore to shore 2,300 horse-drawn carriages and 65 locomotives. And the ice held.
In this season, roads and paths appear on Baikal and you can visit your friends on the other side; nothing can be simpler, you just put on your skates and fly with the obeton, or following wind. The largest skating-rink in the world is at your service. The ice is hard, and yet the local inhabitants drive warily over it. Hard and prolonged frosts make the ice expand and crevasses appear, creeping treacherously across the white, wind-polished mirrors. These cracks are not usually very wide; they are easily stepped or jumped over in the daytime, but in the night they become deadly traps. However, when the frost is particularly hard, permanent gaping crevasses appear that go down to the surface of the water, and these are especially dangerous to traffic over Baikal.
On a cold, frosty day, the thunder and roar of artillery can sometimes be heard over Baikal: the permanent crevasses are closing up and opening, the ice is breaking and the edges are being shattered, rising over the closed crevasse in a white porous wall. To someone who does not know the special features of the winter life of Baikal, the booming and long drawn-out cracking and gunshots will seem so terrifying that he will hurry to the shore, where it is safer.
It’s the children to whom the ice brings the most joy. They build translucent huts with benches and tables of ice, play amongst the hummocks, using slabs of ice for sledges, and clear space for skating-rinks near the shore.
When evening comes, the sunset colours freeze in the crystal surfaces, and again you imagine that pieces of frozen rainbow are lying on the shore.
The birds have come back from the warm countries and have already woken up the taiga; waves of lilac-coloured bagulnik are swamping the mountains, and the fields are receiving their first seeds, but Baikal is still asleep, and its slumber lasts a particularly long time in the northern hollow; it is loath to part with its coat of ice and is in no hurry to drive winter away,
Spring breaks the spell cast on the sun, which has not been giving much warmth, though it has shone blindingly; its rays arc becoming hotter and more insistent, but the translucent ice does not seem afraid of them: it still remains cold, letting them pass through freely and without harm to itself. The frost is hard, and so is the ice, Under the glass roof, however, the waters are waiting to regain their freedom, absorbing the warmth of the sun and beginning to worry the ice from below, infiltrating into each crack and fissure. The enormous white fields become fragile. Strong winds are needed now. And they come in May, the kultuk or the barguzin, smiting Baikal’s breast with the hammerlike blows of squalls. The ice cracks and breaks and the wind drives it to the shore; the floes-slide along the shore-ice and climb up onto dry land. In a few days, they are no longer floes but enormous ice hedgehogs teeming near the shore, as if they had come here to hatch their icy brood. The time comes when they break up into billions of iridescent, translucent needles and the water rocks them to and fro, making a rhythmic noise, now distant, now close at hand, This is ‘rustle’ too, only it’s a spring-time rustle, softer, but just as melodious: Baikal is whispering something to the spring-probably words of gratitude for being able to breathe freely again.
However, these spring-time crystal hedgehogs are not always so inoffensive. Some years, the wind may blow hard and long in one direction when the ice drifts. Then the ice hedgehogs are crowded together into flocks of many thousands; the wind compresses them into huge ice-floes and pushes them ashore. They shift massive boulders set in the earth, squash hundred-year-old pines like blades of grass, climb up the high railway embankments and lift ships many tons in weight, carrying them to the shore as if they were mere feathers,
The ice-floes, broken up and hacked to pieces by spring’s impatience, are carried to the source of the Angara which sucks them into its headlong eternal rush, carrying them along, smashing them, taking the white flocks to the dam of the Irkutsk hydroelectric power plant, recalling the way it used to carry the remnants of ice hundreds of kilometres away, whirling them round until they became the waters of the powerful, pure, and wilful Angara proper.
June tackles in annoyance the white islands of ice that are still drifting in the northern part of Baikal with seals basking on them. In the wake of the warm winds, the sustained whistle of a steamship lets the hills and the dells know that warmth has finally overcome winter, and that navigation on Baikal is open. The seagulls, stretching their wings, go round and round the steamship as it crosses the lake, and the bear, greedily devouring last year’s berries, turns round as he hears the whistle.
In autumn, just as the first leaves came fluttering down from trees, the omul entered the rivers to spawn, and now, as the last ice-floes drift towards the Angara, the grayling, the taimen, and the lenok hurry to the spawning-grounds. Watching the fish negotiate the rapids, rocky ledges and small waterfalls, you come to understand how wise nature is, how precisely she has distributed the course of life in Baikal, the cycles in the replenishment of its fauna, how finely regulated over millions of years is the mechanism that controls the continuation of the species, the balance of food and the harmonious unity of this unique underwater world. Scientists are quite justified in saying that Baikal is the natural laboratory of present and future science which permits us to trace the changes in its animal world over millions of years; moreover, it creates, literally before our eyes, new forms of plankton, in which time and the life force perform their rites.
Late in April or in May, the first flowers peep through the still cold earth; urghui, dream-grass, prostrel-these are all local names for the shaggy snowdrop whose downy bells hereabouts can be clear yellow, or tinged with lilac or just pure blue. The bear has just left his lair and is now filling up on cedar nuts that have spent the winter under the snow, on the first medicinal herbs, on the fish spawning in the river and caught unawares, or on any of the smaller denizens of the forest unlucky enough to get into his paws. However sweet his winter sleep and however delicious his own paw as he sucked it in his cosy den, nothing can compare with this sun, this inebriating, booming freshness of the renewed world, reverberating with the thunder of rivers, swollen by the thaw, echoing with the cries, moans, chattering and trills of birds celebrating their return.
The snow has lain longest on the craggy summits of the Baikal mountains. Now it is melting, too, although not very fast. The trees that mark the hill slopes like discreet black hatching on an artist’s sketch pad are swelling with life and assuming warm brownish lilac tints. From a distance, the forest seems lilac-col-oured, and there is a blue radiance in the chozenia thickets. The sunlight is dazzling on the silver birch bark that has been half peeled off by the winter frosts, and these flaming trunks, shaggy with luminescent stripes of bark, can be seen from far, far away. Baikal is piercingly blue now, refreshed after its long sleep.
washed by the spring warmth, caressed by the generous sun-it is peaceful, serene and young. It was probably called ‘the eye of Siberia’ by men who first saw it like this. Now the greenery is clothing the slopes and the first zharki are aflame. The white felt will only remain on a few towering summits crowned with eternal ice.
Spring is over; it has rolled away down the once swollen and now quiet rivers and streams, it has dissolved in the warm taiga haze and has disappeared with the first spring flowers. It is hard to believe that the winter was so long and severe.
Ellipses of green, wooded mountains, pale-blue French curves that gently roll, cliffs hewn by pounding waters, sky that’s fallen into Lake Baikal.
The lake itself, majestic, eternal, set in a great carved granite frame, all, to the bottom, clear, transparent, all, to the last drop, part of home.
The Angara’s unruly torrent, the turbine’s hum, the gale’s fierce scream, the pines like birds above the chasm, and the wild wind-god, Barguzin.
Without such spaces or horizons, reaching as far as eye can see, Russia would really not be Russia, Siberia simply could not be.*
What lures man to faraway unknown places? Born of nature, he is eager to feel its pure breath, to touch it with his soul that is daily numbed by the din of a tense and dynamic epoch, the rhythms of work, the exhaust of millions of cars, the lure of TV and the bustle of overcrowded cities. It is Baikal’s beauty that attracts man to this miracle of nature. Let us recall what remarkably beautiful spots our forefathers chose as sites for their towns and villages; picturesque river-bends, golden hills, the fringe of fairy-tale forests. Any stretch of Baikal’s shore is its finest beauty spot, for this particular bay, or sand-bar, or cliff, is so finely wrought by nature that it takes your breath away. We are not always capable of expressing our feelings: we sometimes lack skill in handling the word, the brush or the note; but that chill in the breast, that inspired glow in the eyes that we experience when we come to these virgin parts-is it not akin to the flame that inspired Gogol or Aksakov or Prishvin, becoming hymns to our native land, that bathed in a pure radiance the canvases of Shishkin or Levitan, that came pouring out in the landscape symphonies of Tchaikovsky, or Rimsky-Korsakov, or Prokofiev? Face to face with nature, we all become writers, painters and composers. Rejuvenated and in love with our homeland, we go back to the world of our labours and cares. This is how we saw Baikal; everyone who has drunk its waters goes away with a unique picture of it in his memory. And so we say, «Farewell, Baikal, Siberian miracle of nature!»
About region. Hydrography
There are colossal resourses of lakes, rivers, underground fresh and mineral water on the territory of the region. The main water resources are – cascade of Angarsk water depositories and Lake Baikal. Beside of the largest fresh lake on the planet, there is one more lake — Oron with the area of 51,3 sq. kms.
There are 67 000 rivers and rills in Irkutsk region and most of them flow into the lake Baikal and other large rivers. The total length of all rivers is 310 000 kms. The largest river basins are Angarsk, Lena and Niznyaya Tunguska.
Besides superficial, there are large resources of underground fresh and mineral water. Mineral water resources of different kinds cause special interest.
Fauna of Irkutsk region is rich and varied. It is represented by 68 species of mammals, 322 kinds of birds, 6 – of reptiles and 5 species of amphibians. The significant part of animals is included into the Red Book of Russia. Nearly 75% of the territory of the region is covered by taiga, where pine, larch and cedar trees grow. Cedar-tree nuts contain up to 80% of oil close in its content to the almond one.
Birch-trees, alders, Siberian apple-trees, bird-cheery trees, poplars and rowan-trees can be found in broad-leaved forests. Taiga is rich in mushrooms and berries. Cowberry, cranberry, raspberry, currant and bilberry are the most famous.
Bears, wolves, foxes, sables and lynxes together with their quarries: roe deer, deer and elks are the representatives of the world of wild animals of the region. Deer without horns and goats inhabit the mountains. Such birds as quails, hasel-grouses and black-cocks can be met in taiga. Every spring a huge number of geese, ducks, swans and cranes comes to the large water spaces of the region. It should be mentioned, that one of 2630 endemics of the lake Baikal – nerpa, lives here. It is the only species of seals in this region.