BAIKAL IS A GREAT LAKE-SEA
Dull figures and precise statistical data are seldom impressive. What’s interesting in the information about the age of Baikal – 25-30 million years, about its maximum and minimum width – 81 and 27 km or about the length of its coast – about 2100 km? Almost nothing! One can feel all-embracing power and energy of Baikal only if he visits it, breaths its air smelling with pitch and herbs and looks at its transparent mirror-like surface. Participants and visitors of Baikal Economic Forum have an opportunity to do it since BEF is traditionally held in the middle of September – the "velvet" season of the “Famous Sea”.
THE VERY MOST
Baikal is located between Irkutsk region and Buryat Republic; its outlines remind of a young crescent moon. Baikal cavity is the deepest one on the earth surface. Tectonic processes, which once created the lake, run on till nowadays: every year there are up to 3 thousand earthquakes, they’re usually weak ones and may be registered only by very sensitive devices; Baikal becomes wider on several centimeters per year.
Baikal may be called “the most” countless number of times. It’s the deepest lake of the planet. Its extreme depth comes up to 1642 meters (nearby the Olkhon island), its average depth is 744.4 meters – it exceeds maximum depths of many other lakes. Baikal is the biggest reservoir of fresh water on the Earth (approximately 20 %). If Baikal cavity is dried up, the annual drain of all rivers in the world is required to fill it anew. Baikal water is so clean and transparent, so oxygenated that even at the depth of 30-40 meters the one can see small objects like coins lying on the bottom. It’s one of the coldest lakes – the surface of the water seldom gets warmer than 9-10 degrees in summer time, it’s warmer only in small bays and gulfs. But there are always some people who want to have a swim!
FLORA AND FAUNA
In Baikal there are 2630 kinds of plants and animals, two thirds of them are endemic, that means they cannot be found anywhere else on the Earth. There are some famous endemics like the Baikal seal and some are not widely known – about 80 kinds of mollusks, almost 200 kinds of arthropods, etc. Among fishes 27 are considered to be endemic, including the Baikal sturgeon, omul and a small transparent Baikal oilfish which practically completely consists of fat and in the hot sun of July it may simply … melt. The flora of Baikal is also various, about 1000 kinds of plants grow here and among them there are a lot of endemics.
MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Baikal is enfolded into myths, legends and stories, some of them exist since the beginning of its development; some other appear nowadays. One of the most famous legends is about escape Baikal’s daughter Angara, which was forced to marry a local epic hero Irkut. The beauty ran away to the north to her beloved Yenisei, and the angry father threw a stone after her, trying to stop her. This Shaman-stone is now in Listvyanka at the place where the river runs out of Baikal.
People idolized Baikal nature since ancient times, the proof of that may be found everywhere. For example, each local wind has a name; almost all of them has legends about it. The most famous wind is Barguzin, it blows from the north-east all along the lake and brings sunny but cool weather. The most insidious wind is Sarma, it blows from the district of the same name of the Small Sea and is strong enough to overturn the ships and take down roofs of houses.
It is illustrative that local inhabitants never call Baikal a lake; they only name it the sea. It shows all the respect, even worship that people feel towards the great Baikal.
Practically every part of Baikal is beautiful in its own way. Its coasts are various: there’s taiga, steppes, mountains, sandy beaches running for many kilometers, rough rocks covered with red lichen, impassable swamplands and merry field woodlands … But there are some very special places which attract people from all over the world.
Listvyanka. It’s a small festive town located at the bottom of the mountains, only 70 kilometers away from Irkutsk and straggled out along the Baikal coast for several kilometers. This is the first place that guests of Irkutsk region come to visit. A well-known Baikal museum is located there with unique expositions, aquariums and an arboretum. There are also a nerpinary (aquarium of Baikal seal), an art gallery, lots of tourist camps, hotels and restaurants. In Listvyanka one can try fish delicacies – smoked omul, cisco and grayling, buy souvenirs, enjoy the scenery of snowy peaks of Hamar-Daban range on the opposite coast and take a trip on a yacht, a boat or a steam-ship.
Krugobaikalskaya railway. It can be compared to a golden buckle on the steel belt of Trans-Siberian Railway; it’s a monument of history and engineering. This railway is really unique. Constructed in 1902-1905, up to 1949 it provided Russia with railway communication to the Far East. It’s uniqueness consists in fact, that it was constructed not just along the mountainous coast of Baikal, but literally inside of it: builders had to blow up the rocks, hack tunnels through them (about 40 tunnels all together), and raise huge stone aqueducts across the rivers. When the dam of Irkutsk hydro power station was built in the middle of the last century, part of the railway went underwater, now it stretches from port Baikal to station Slyudyanka; its length is 89 kilometers.
Olkhon. It’s the biggest island of Baikal with outlines repeating the lake-sea itself, its length is 71 km and width is up to 15 km. Since ancient times this island is a sacral place for northern world of shamanists. Shamans used to perform their rituals in the cave of rock Shamanka located not far from Huzhir, the capital of the island. According to Buryat myths and legends Olkhon is a habitation of severe Baikal spirits. This island is probably the most visited place at Baikal: each year dozens of thousand people from all over the world come here. There’s much to see – lots of unique monuments of nature, there’s much to do – lots of opportunities for active rest (walking and bicycle tours to all the parts of the island, boat and yacht trips). One of Olkhon legends is about the mysterious nation of Kurikans that lived here at the Iron Age period and left burial grounds and stone walls that survived for many centuries. The strait between the continent and the island is called Small Sea. There are many convenient bays and gulfs, special microclimate i.e. by August water may get up to +25 degrees warm.
BAIKAL ECONOMIC FORUM AND BAIKAL
The topic of preservation of Baikal and efficient management of natural resources is constantly mentioned at plenary sessions and round tables of Baikal Economic Forum. Representatives of federal ministries and departments, regional authorities, scientists, ecologists, representatives of public organizations discuss nature protection activities, execution of federal legislation regarding protection of Baikal, options of its change and many other things.
SOME FACT ABOUT BAIKAL
1. The nature of Baikal gives an opportunity to carry out unique scientific projects. For example, in Listvyanka there is a big solar vacuum telescope for supervision of the sun, it’s the biggest one in Russia. At the 106th kilometer of Circum-Baikal Railway there is a deep-water neutrino telescope constructed in 1993-1998. There are a few telescopes like this one in the world.
2. An expedition "Miry" works at the lake Baikal for three years already. Scientists dived to the bottom in a piloted deep-operating vehicle and try to solve the numerous puzzles of Baikal. Last year the chairman of Russian Federation government Vladimir Putin dive to the bottom of the lake, this year the prince of Monaco Albert is expecting to come.
3. In winter Baikal is as beautiful as in summer. In February-March when frost reduces, the well-known ice fishing begins. On Baikal ice they drive on the dog sleighs, skate and iceboat, there are ice marathons and even competitions in ice-golf.
4. Around Baikal there are two national parks – Pribaikalsky (Irkutsk region) and Transbaikalsky (Buryatiya), the Baikal national park, Barguzin biosphere reserve and Baikal-Lensky reserve.
5. For a long time 336 rivers, rivulets and streams were considered to fall into Baikal (this data is still pre-revolutionary), the main rivers are Selenga, Verkhnaya Angara and Barguzin. However, according to the modern information their number became less. Only Angara flow out of the lake.
6. Since 1996 Baikal is UNESCO world heritage object.