I was surprised to learn that Lake Baikal holds one-fifth of all the fresh water in the world, equal to all five Great Lakes combined. It’s the Earth’s oldest freshwater lake dating back 20-25 million years. Knowing this, I was looking forward to seeing it for myself.
We stayed overnight in Listvyanka, on Lake Baikal. It gave us the chance to truly appreciate the area and to experience several local attractions. First, we bought smoked omul from the town market. It’s a local delicacy, a fish of the salmon family endemic to Lake Baikal. The way it’s smoked keeps it moist and flavourful. We ate it with fresh-baked bread, pizza-shaped with a flower imprinted in its centre.
After lunch, we went out on the lake for a boat ride. It was a sunny day and we were lucky to have unseasonably warm weather, around 6 degrees Celsius. Several local fishermen have converted their boats to carry passengers, capitalizing on a growing tourist market. From our boat, we had a great view on the spectacular snow-covered Khamar Daban Mountains on the far shore and appreciated the crystal-clear water of the lake.
The water is so pure here that the residents draw their drinking water directly from the lake, carrying it home by the bucket-full.
Later, we hiked to the top of a nearby hill. A very steep climb lead us to a breath-taking view of the lake and its eastern shoreline.
At the end of the afternoon, we visited Retro Park. It’s the product of a local artist who repurposes old car parts, bike parts and tools into whimsical creatures. It was a cheerful place that made us all smile.
Lake Baikal lies in a cleft of the Eurasian tectonic plate which is considered to be splitting apart at that point to eventually form a new ocean. The lake is estimated to hold 23,000 cubic kilometres of water. Its maximum depth is 1,632 metres. It’s 636 km long and 79 km at its widest point. More than half the species found in the lake are unique to its environment.