We arrived bang on time in Irkutsk at 6.22am on Saturday and as we manhandled our substantial luggage down about a yard onto the platform there was Ksenia, our new guide, waiting exactly at the right place with our name on a sign. It was a quick hug and goodbye to our train friends and then we were in a nice new black Kia Sportage (yes another Kia) with Ksenia and our driver Igor for the two hour journey to the small village of Bolshoe Goloustnoye on the shores of Lake Baikal.
Ksenia is in her twenties and an English teacher at a local private school who does Tour Guiding part time at weekends and during school holidays. She will be with the two of us exclusively for the three days we are in the area. We will be living in guest accommodation attached to a farmhouse.
We arrived and were shown to our basic but comfy looking wooden chalet, one of a row of four. Breakfast (and all 3 meals a day) was in a separate unit and lo and behold in there was the Indian couple who we spent the day with on a tour in Yekaterinburg. They are the only other guests and they are leaving tomorrow morning.
Our location is a proper working village of 700 with one shop, one cafe and very little tourism. The local trades are primarily fishing and agriculture. The indigenous population are Buryats who are very recognisable, looking like Mongolians. They represent about 80% of the local population now.
In the afternoon Ksenia takes us on an orientation walk around the village and a 10 minute stroll down to the shore of the main reason for being here, Lake Baikal. This lake is a monster in size and staggeringly holds over 20% of the World’s fresh water! It is 395 miles long from end to end but what creates it’s volume is it’s depth as the lake is over one mile deep in places. In winter it freezes completely to a depth of several metres. Today the weather is mixed with sunshine and showers but tomorrow is supposed to be better and a long walk up into the hills is planned.
Back at our chalet it’s bath time or as Russians call it ’Banya’. Our accommodation has a very smart Banya which is attached to our row of chalets. It is very similar to a sauna so was very welcome after several days on the train without proper washing facilities. 40 minutes in the hot Banya and then mixing hot and cold water to tip over yourself is a great way to clean up.
Then it was a hearty home cooked dinner, with a couple of beers from the local shop, and an early night. The beds are pretty hard but bearable and despite the cold outside temperature we have two good heaters in the chalet to keep us warm. No problem going to sleep.
Awoke on Sunday to shocking news.........Watford have sacked their Manager!! Anyway after recovering from this it was an early morning tea and then breakfast back in the dining room. We also woke to cocks crowing, cows mooing and the odd dog barking, all very rural. Weather windy but blue skies.
What better for a Sunday in Eastern Siberia than a long walk with Ksenia which we’ll cover separately. We were back for lunch and then sat in the sun on our terrace reading, the silence only interrupted by a large Asian Sparrow Hawk appearing at high speed from nowhere and attacking a bush filled with sparrows. The bush was only about 10 yards from us and it gave us a real surprise when the Hawk made it’s initial attack and then smashed it’s way back in the bush for a second go. There were no fatalities as far as we could see.
Things then settled down for the rest of the afternoon and after a 4 o’clock Banya (we were braver with water temperature this time) we walked down to the lake for a beer in the only bar in town (which had wi-fi....hallelujah!). Dinner was being served at 7:30pm prompt and as we were the only guests we made sure we were back in time and enjoyed our soup and dumplings.
It was then time for a bit of packing, a coffee and a read before bed. It’s time to get on the move again and tomorrow (Monday) morning we are being driven back by Igor to the City of Irkutsk for a day and one night before boarding the Trans-Mongolian train for the first time on Tuesday morning.
We have had a very enjoyable time here at Bolshoe Goloustnoye on Lake Baikal. It has been very basic, but given us a chance to see how life really works in a Siberian village. As we have thought before during our time in Siberia, what must it be like in a few weeks time once the snow comes and temperatures start dropping to -30C? It doesn’t bear thinking about how we would cope that’s for sure!Read more