Destination: Olkhon Island.
Travel direction: Russia -> Siberia -> Trans-Siberian Railway -> Irkutsk -> Lake Baikal -> Olkhon Island.
Location: Check the map.
I have good friends, Artem Petoukhov and Katya Ipatieva. They are leaders of Taymyr Yakutsk Adventure Club. As far as you know, Yakutsk is the administrative center of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).
These guys prefer mountain trekking and off-roading, but during their last expedition from Yakutsk to the Sayan Range (near Irkutsk, Siberia/Russia) and Mongolia, in September 2010, they decided to make the exception and visit Olkhon, Lake Baikal’s biggest, most picturesque island.
By the way, the trip to Olkhon Island is a good time-killing option, especially when you are travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway and have extra days in Irkutsk (Siberia/Russia) and need to wait for Mongolian or South Korean visas. Besides, going to Olkhon might be much better than staying in Irkutsk in terms of travel expenses. Yeah, in Irkutsk you stay not in an expensive hotel, but in a hostel for 500 rubles per night. However, many city entertainments make your wallet thinner definitely.
How to get to Olkhon Island (the central village of Khuzhir) from Irkutsk?
There are few options:
1. By a public minivan. You can take a minivan from the central market place or the central bus station. One passenger seat in a minivan costs 500 rubles. Minivans go two times a day. The first one departs at 8.30 am. Recommend to purchase a ticket in advance, as the quantity of seats is limited. Depending on a driver, the ride might take 4-6 hours.
2. By a public bus. Goes one time a day. Departs at 8.10. Costs 395 rubles + 100 rubles for luggage. The way with many stops may take up to 8 hours.
3. By speed boats “Komet” (2880 rubles) and “Barguzin” (3380) from Irkutsk, Solnechniy Boat Station, to Olkhon. ~5 hours by Komet and ~8 hours by Barguzin.
4. By the ice road in winter.
– Above rates are given as they were in 2010.
– A ferry from the east coast to Olkhon Island (Khuzhir) goes hourly. In summer it works 24 hours, in autumn from 8 am till 9 pm. Costs ~ 200 rubles per person.
Accommodation in Olkhon
Recently, many new guest houses appeared, but many of them are not finished, not well-equipped and comfortable yet. The best option is Nikita Bencharov’s Homestead with available online reservation service and transfer between Irkutsk and Olkhon.
At Nikita’s place you can stay in a Russian-style house or a Buryat yurt. One day stay rate is around 1000 rubles with meals included.
Don’t think much where to stay and how to get to Olkhon. Be as wise as my friends were. They reserved rooms at Nikita Bencharov’s guest house and asked him to pick them up in Irkutsk. His minivan driver charged 300 rubles per person only and the way took 3 hours with something.
Car rent on Olkhon
By the way, you wish to see all parts of Olkhon Island, just be simple and rent a UAZ with a driver at Nikita’s place for 500 rubles per person. Oh, btw, you can rent a bycicle as well, but people say that renter cycles are not good.
Baikal’s Olkhon Island facts
What is Olkhon Island?
Among three dozen islands of Lake Baikal, the most remarkable one is Olkhon Island. It is full of many ancient myths and legends. Stands out with its huge size, diversity of landscapes, and the majesty of nature monuments.
Olkhon Island is located in the Baikal National Park and deservedly regarded as one of the most beautiful places on Baikal. Especially island is beautiful in the autumn, when it is covered with a golden carpet of grass, forest, untouched fiery colors of autumn. Olkhon obediently freezes under the powerful blows of the Baikal waves and mountain wind in anticipation of the harsh Siberian winter…
Geography of Olkhon
Olkhon, the biggest island of Lake Baikal, is located in the middle of the lake, near the west coast. The island stretches along the shores of Lake Baikal. The length of Olkhon is 73 km (between capes and Khoboy Umysh-Tame), the width reaches 15 km. Olkhon area is about 700 sq km, the length of coastline as long as 210 km.
Part of Lake Baikal between the west coast of the lake and the island is the unique water space with a special microclimate and is known as the Small. The south-western tip of Olkhon is separated from the coast of Lake Baikal by Olkhonskiye Vorota (Olkhon Gate) strait and has the reputation of the most treacherous place on Lake Baikal.
There are at least two versions of the origin of the name of the island, both are derived from the language of the Buryats, the indigenous nation of Olkhon. The first is that the island’s name comes from the word “oyhon” – “woody”, according to the second – from “olhan” – “dry”. Both resembles the appearance of Olkhon. It looks like dry and woody.
Olkhon’s west coast, washed by the waters of the Small Sea. It is partly with gently sloping, partly with rocky headlands and deep bays. The eastside is rocky and high. In the southern part the highest point is Mount Jima (1274 m), towering over Lake Baikal at 818 m. Eleven kilometers away there is the deepest part of Lake Baikal – 1637 m. In this area, the steepness of the underwater slope near the island reaches 30-40 degrees.
In the southern part of Olkhon and, partly, the northern end of the steppe, pine, larch and birch forests grow. In the middle of the island western coast, sandy beach stretches from Huzhirsky Cape to Sasa Cape,. Overgrown with pine and larch, dissected by rocky headlands, they leave an unforgettable impression.
Olkhon is large enough to have its own lake. The largest and most well-known are Nurskyj, which merges with the Gulf Zagli at high water levels in Lake Baikal; Hanehoi with some archaeological sites; Shara-Nur, the only saltwater lake in Olkhon; Nuku-Nur with an incredible amount of aquatic organisms.
No rivers in Olkhon. Just a few small creeks that reach Lake Baikal. In the forest of the island there are small springs that feed the few marshes. Despite the dry look, new creeks might appear in Olkhon.
Olkhon Island Climate
The warmest months on Olkhon are July and August. Winter is rather mild with little snow, but longer than on the mainland. Spring and summer come later than on the mainland. South and south-western part of the island are the driest place not only on Olkhon, but on the whole Lake. The reason is Primorsky Range, through which the air masses roll over towards Olkhon. Pushing back and slipping in the Lake Baikal basin, air masses get heated, which leads to relative humidity decrease. As a result, rains designed for Olkhon fall on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal. Normally, rains seem to be ten drops per hour, but very heavy rainfall might happen.
Winds blow on Olkhon often and last long. Average number of days with winds over 15 m/s is equal to 148.
Population of Olkhon Island
People settled on Olkhon long ago. For instance, in Saraysk Gulf there were ancient people’s settlements found. Their age is estimated more than 13,000 years. Currently, Olkhon is the only inhabited island on Lake Baikal. There are about 1500 people, mainly Buryats, living in some small villages. Fishing and animal husbandry are their main activities.
The largest settlement is Khuzhir with a population of about 1200 people. The Malomorsky fishery, the biggest one in Lake Baikal, is based here, but it is not active, abandoned.
Fauna of Olkhon Island
Currently, the island is home to 135 species of birds (snipe, duck, grouse, capercaillie, Daurian crow, horned lark, belopoyasny martin, wheatear, wagtails, etc.). Twenty species of mammals (lynx, fox, rabbit, squirrel, polecat, weasel, etc.), including the endemic animal – Olkhon vole that dwells only in Pribaikal steppes, three species of reptiles and one species of amphibians. Occasionally, especially in the winter time, it’s possible to meet solitary wolves that enter the island on the ice. Very rarely, wolf pack may come in the same way. No bears on Olkhon Island.
History of Olkhon roots deep in antiquity. The island has created many wonderful legends. That could be proved by the existence of numerous historical monuments and archaeological finds made in the course of 200-year island exploration. By January 1, 1993, 143 archaeological sites had been found. Many of them are under state protection. They are rock carvings, ancient settlements, parking lots, burials, religious and defense constructions. Unfortunately, many sites were destroyed, including the ancient stone walls, the purpose of which is not defined yet. The walls were destroyed in 1961, when Khuzhir dwellers needed stones for the pier construction.
Nature Monuments on Olkhon
On the territory of Olkhon, there are several natural monuments protected by the state, although, frankly saying, the whole Olkhon island deserves to be a nature sanctuary and protected entirely.
The most famous monument of the nature is The Shaman’s Cape (officially known as Burhan). Considered to be the natural and historic monuments. Burhan is located in the middle of the northern island part on the outskirts of Khuzhir village. The image of Cape became the symbol of Lake Baikal.
Not less picturesque landscape nature monuments are Sagan Khushun Cape, a magnificent white marble promontory in the northern part of Olkhon, and Khoboy Cape on the northern tip of the island.
Spectacular Kobylya Golova (Horse Head) Cape, with the Small Sea on the one hand and Olkhon Gate Strait on the other, was recognized as a geological and geomorphologic natural monument as well.
Other monuments of scientific significance are bays Haransa and Haraldayskaya, Sasa Cape, Peschanka Tract, landscapes of bays Zagli and Tag, and Bayan-Zhung Tract.
Photo credits: Artyom Petoukhov & Katya Ipatieva.
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