On Olkhon Island shamanic symbols are omnipresent with Shaman Rock being the most famous one. I had expected the island to be green, but it looked more like a savannah. Later I learned that Olkhon is the driest spot in the whole of Lake Baikal. The cliffs around Cape Khoboy are spectacular even on a foggy day. Khuzir, the not so lovely capital grows on you, watching the Russian holiday makers with their beach gear became my favorite pastime.
Olkon is close to the mainland, a ferry quickly takes passengers and cars across. To get to the ferry, most people use mini-vans from Irkutsk that speed along the western shore of Lake Baikal. The trip from Irkutsk to the island can take a long time, especially in summer when there are long lines at the ferry.
During that ride from Irkutsk to the ferry you never see the lake, only forests and meadows, shadowed by clouds drifting so low you feel you can touch them.
Waiting at the ferry crossing was quite an experience since it was my first contact with large crowds of Russian holiday-makers. Their outfit, the kind of souvenirs on sale, the make-shift restaurant, everything was alien.
Once on the island it is another pretty long, bumpy ride to reach Khuzhir the “capital”. So, if you think of going there, plan at least four days. I had hoped to jump on a boat in Irkutsk and go straight to this island in Lake Baikal. But I could not get any decent information, and eventually choose the kind of transport that my host Gallina recommended, a communal mini-van.
Sightseeing on Olkchon Island
The local Buryat people worship this 75km long island in Lake Baikal for its shamanic energy. There are a few sights like Cape Khoboy, Shaman Rock and the seven colorful-decorated poles, but what makes it really special is that feeling of being in a very remote place.
The capital Khuzhir is a dusty village, when I arrived it was foggy and overcast and the place looked depressing. Once the sun was out, I loved it. I fell in love with the many colorful wooden houses with painted window-pane and the wide, dusty main drag where Russian families stroll along, dressed in swim gear carrying everything needed for a proper day on the beach. So I spend my days wondering around the village, taking photos and allowed Khuzhir to grow on me.
The fast majority of Russian holidayers were women, either in small groups or with their children. I asked a few women why this is so and the answer always was, the husband is working. It seemed they are working to pay for the holiday in a traditional society like the Russian.
The trip to Cape Khoboy takes a long time in the omnipresent small vans called VAS. Those were first built during World War II and used as ambulances, the only car that manages these super bumpy island tracks.
The steep cliffs around the Cape must be a great sight, which we did not really see since the fog was thick, thick, thick. But on the other hand, it gave the area a spooky touch.
While we were checking out the cliffs, our driver turned Lake Baikal’s most famous fish, Omul, into a fish soup.
The weather improved with every day of my stay and I felt sad that I had to leave. Lake Baikal (636 km long and between 27-80 km wide) is special in many ways: it is super deep, with a record 1637m and it is the largest fresh water reservoir of this planet. It fauna und flora are unique, like the Baikal-seal. The drinking water is pumped up from 440m and cleaned only through mechanic filters. At the beginning of January the water of the lake freezes and cars can drive on it.
My host in Irkutsk had recommended to stay at “U Olgi”, a family that rents out two one-story wooden buildings, about 9 rooms. We were about 15 tourists there, who enjoyed the tasty breakfast and dinner and Wifi was mostly fast.
Unfortunately the best accommodation, Nikita’s Homestead, was fully booked. It is such a great place, almost like a compound with many timber-made buildings. I checked it out one evening and even met Nikita himself, a friendly local who made a fortune with his place. It overs every service you can dream of and is packed with travelers.
I had to give up my plan to cross from Olkhon over to the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, since there is no ferry or regular boat service. Private boats can be chartered for very dear prices.
Like so often I left with that feeling that this place would deserve so much more time and attention.