Tag Archives: baikal

Buryatia and Transbaikal – the Buddhism center of Russia.

Buryatia and Transbaikal are two of the main centers of Buddhism in Russia. As if to demonstrate this, not far from Ulan-Ude there’s the great Buddhist monastery-university Ivolginsky Datsan. Another demonstration: on the way to the monastery there’s the famous Buddhist mantra emblazoned on a hillside: Om mani padme hum.

Datsan’s an interesting place well worthy of a visit and walkabout thereat. First impressions – a slightly Russified version of a Buddhist temple complex in China:

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We carry on – to the island of Olkhon.

In getting to the island of Olkhon (while still on the mainland), I have a feeling we were taken off-road on purpose – so we could put the Land Rovers through their 4×4 paces to the max while also getting some of the better views of the lake while driving alongside it. Well, the Land Rovers not only perfectly passed the test – they also helped pull out a mini-bus that had gotten bogged down in a spot of mushy ice that had been melted by the sun.

The story was quite a fun one, btw: the mini-bus was carrying some Russian tourists, and it was following a route along which probably one vehicle passed each day – well that was this vehicle!  So, they were literally in the middle of nowhere, stranded, with little prospect of being rescued – at least on that day. You can imagine how desperate those poor tourists were becoming. Anyway, all of a sudden – da-daaa – along come eight mighty Land Rovers! They couldn’t believe their luck. Then, when I got out of the driving seat of one of the Land Rovers, was recognized, hooked the rope onto their bumper, then got back behind the wheel to pull the mini-bus out of the mush, well, I have to say it looked like they might faint!

Soviet joke digression!

The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was know to like fancy cars. One Sunday, he fancied a drive. So in he jumped, with his driver transferred to the front passenger seat. Off he races out into the countryside. Of course, after a while of doing well over the speed limit, eventually the traffic police pull him over. One of the police officers goes over to the car while Mr.Brezhnev winds down the window. The driver, naturally, is stunned, stands there frozen, eyes as big as saucers, and slowly turns back to his colleagues, who shout over: “What’s up Boris? Who’s the VIP being driven around at such crazy speed, then?” To which Boris replies: “Well, actually, I don’t know; but his driver is Brezhnev himself!”

Still on the mainland, perhaps the most memorable experience was stopping off at the village of Bugul’deyka, or, rather, its abandoned marble quarry. The place is nothing too special, but it was worth a quick look around. I wondered – why did they give up extracting marble here? Surely there’s always a demand for this posh construction material loved by five-star hotels (and five-star metros:).

My wonderings were soon answered: apparently this marble is a soft kind – only good really for sculptures; no good at all for construction. In Soviet times, when statues of Lenin were always popular (there would be many in any city, at least one in most towns), this place was kept very busy. These days, with patriotic-ideological monuments less in vogue, there’s just no need for its marble any more. The only folks who come here are the occasional tourists who’ve wandered off the beaten track.

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Flickr photostream

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Baikal: history, trains, ashore, and more.

A tourist visiting Lake Baikal usually starts out at Irkutsk airport they’ve just flown in to, from where there’s a good quality road southeast to the Lake, the journey along which taking about an hour. The first view you get of Baikal is of the riverhead of the Angara that comes off the lake. This is the only river that flows from the lake (while the rivers and streams flowing into it number over 300!), and it does so in no small measure – the width of the river at the lake’s edge is some 900 meters!

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Crossing Baikal.

As I showed you in yesterday’s post, folks travel across the ice of Lake Baikal on various modes of transport. We went for one of the more glamorous and comfortable modes – Land Rovers!

(Brief ad break: the Land Rovers were supplied by the company Avtorazum, in fact – personally by its owner, Alexey Simakin, who, btw, is the Guinness world record holder for the longest car journey in one country, a ‘Master of Sport’ of the USSR (yachting), and twice champion of Russia in yachting. Check out those links – Avtorazum organizes all sorts of crazy cool auto-expeditions all over Russia and beyond).

And our Land Rovers looked like this:

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New word alert: Baikalian!

Privyet folks!

The other week I had a quick – six day – outing over to Lake Baikal in Siberia. As could have been expected, it was a delightful trip, with the six days passing so quickly it was as if time itself had been shortened. Ice, snow, endless expanses, entrancing enjoyment. And – oh my gigabytes – a ton of photos we appear to have taken. Ok, while I’m sifting, selecting and editing, I’ll give you some traditional aperitif-pics to whet the appetite…

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