So large that it is often mistaken for a sea, Russia’s Lake Baikal is the deepest and oldest lake in the world and the largest freshwater lake by volume. Famous for its crystal clear waters and unique wildlife, the lake is located in south-central Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border, and is surrounded by mountains, forests, and wild rivers.
An area of immense natural beauty, it holds about 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. One of the world’s clearest lakes, in the summer when the melted ice flows into it from the Siberian mountains, it is possible to see more than 130 feet down. Estimated to be around 25 million years old, more than 330 rivers flow into the lake but only one, the Angara, flows out.
Referred to as the Galápagos of Russia, due to its exceptional biodiversity and importance to evolutionary science, about 80% of the 3,700 plus species found here are endemic. One unique species is the Baikal seal, or nerpa, the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal. The Baikal seal can remain underwater for up to an hour given its extraordinary capacity to hold oxygen, diving to depths of almost 300 m.
Land-based species in the area include bears, reindeer, elk, wild boar, deer, sable, and wolves. In Summer, the water turns the deepest, most beautiful blue. Winter brings fewer visitors, but those willing to brave the icy Siberian weather to visit Lake Baikal are rewarded with powder-white snowscapes and steel-hard frozen ice perfect to ice skate on.
Whenever your visit is it to swim in the Baikal, drink its pure water, hike, skirt around it by train, cycle or dog sledge over it, or simply admire its expansive 2,000-km shoreline, Siberia doesn’t get better than this. The village of Listvyanka on the lake’s western shore is a popular starting point for these activities.
Reaching a depth of 4,000 feet below sea level, Lake Baikal is in an active continental rift zone that is widening at a rate of about 1 inch per year, meaning that the lake is destined to grow wider and deeper in the future.
The Monster that Lurks in Lake
Over the years there have been sightings of a Water Dragon-Master, or Usan-Lobson Khan, floating on the waters or beneath the lake’s crystal-clear surface. Described as a giant sturgeon with a prominent nose and armoured plate along the back. Supporting the legend are ancient carvings depicting this very creature found nearby.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced.