Another Yura, a physicist working for a large company in Angarsk, took me, and Tanya, and her son Kirill in his car for a two day trip to the south-west shore of Lake Baikal. The road from Irkutsk to the western-most tip of Baikal at Kultuk leads over a small mountain range, and it was completely covered by snow. Yura had studded tires on his car (as everybody else who wants to drive in the countryside), which gave him confidence to drive very fast on that curvy road, as most other drivers do. I must say that I was afraid a little bit, but they all must be very good drivers as we saw only one truck in the ditch during the whole mad drive.
Most of the cars in this part of Russia are cheap imports from Japan, almost all of them manufactured for driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right. I was told they were originally destined for Australia. (Of course, one drives on the right in Russia.)
Around the lake there was only a little bit of snow on the ground, and the roads were clear. We drove through Kultuk and then continued east along the southern shore of the lake, through Slyudyanka (the name derives from slyuda, Russian for mica which is extracted from the mountainsides above the town), and continued to a small place of Utulik, where we walked along the shore near a campground and a shipwreck that locals call Titanik.
It was very interesting to watch fisherman far across a bay (visible only through a large zoom camera) to skim from the top of waves the tiny Baikal freshwater shrimps called bormash by most people, and Gammarus pulex by scientists. The motions of the bormash collectors looked almost like a ballet on the waves. The shrimps will later be used as fish-bait. When we were there, nobody present could actually tell me what those people were doing there. I had to find out later.
On a mountainside near Utulik, there is a downhill ski resort with prices comparable to those in Canada, and thus far beyond what a large majority of the local people can afford.
It is said that many UFO sightings occur around Lake Baikal. This may be connected to the increased seismic activity in this area, because many UFO phenomena can be explained as luminous manifestations of tectonic processes.
We also visited Baikalsk, the largest town in this area and probably the largest community on the Baikal shores, founded in 1961 when the construction of the controversial Baikalsk pulp mill started, despite massive protests by scientists, to manufacture high quality fibre for aircraft tires. Completed in 1966, this mill polluted the adjacent bay. The polluted area have fortunately remained localized for the time being. Nevertheless, the mill represents a long-term threat to the pristine Baikal environment, and the effort by environmentalists to close it down never stopped. It has finally been decided recently that the mill will be converted by about 2006 into a food processing facility to provide employment for the 17,000 people living in Baikalsk. (Another source of Baikal's pollution are the polluted waters of the Selenga River. People of Baikalsk claim that in this way, far-away cities such as Ulan-Ude actually contribute more to the Baikal's pollution than the Baikalsk plant.)
We spent the night in the home of a gold prospector (next page) and did some cross-country skiing next day before returning to Irkutsk.
My 1971 photos of Baikal got lost, and the winter shots above may not seem that spectacular to most people, but one can find many beautiful pictures, and a lot of further information about Baikal e.g. on the Lake Baikal Homepage.
Further information and links also on the Living Lake Baikal page, and the Baikal - the Pearl of Siberia page.