In 2007-2008 years the national contest “Seven Wonders of Russia” was organized to select the most beautiful destinations the country has to offer. People chose the places they thought best represented their country’s beauty. According to this online voting, Lake Baikal ranks first among the Seven Wonders of Russia. It is one of the most beautiful places on the earth. A famous Siberian writer Valentin Rasputin once said, «Man does not have enough feelings to respond to this miracle».
The most wonderful of all miracles, Baikal is a lake of tectonic origin in the southern part of Eastern Siberia. The greater part of its coastline (about 60%) is on the lands of the Republic of Buryatia.
The Baikal is the most ancient lake on the Earth. This «Sacred Sea», as locals traditionally call it, is more than 25 million years old, which makes it a living laboratory of evolution for scientists. The second oldest lake in the world, Africa’s Lake Tanganyika, is merely two million years old. Most lakes seldom get beyond 50,000 years.
The size and magnitude of Lake Baikal is astounding. The largest natural reservoir of fresh water, containing one fifth of the planet’s fresh water resources, more than all five Great Lakes of North America combined, is 636 km. (about 400 miles) long, with its greatest depth at some 1,642 meters (1.1 miles). Being the deepest lake in the world, it sits in the planet’s deepest land depression where at least 3 tectonic plates meet. These plates scrape against each other, making the lake even deeper and wider. The lake is still remarkably clean. The waters of the lake are amazingly transparent and dramatically change colours during the day. For more than half of the year the Baikal is frozen. The weather from December to March can be cold and snowy but the climate around the Baikal is much milder than in the rest of southern Siberia. It is a very special experience to come here during the winter. We'll tell you more about this in one of the subsequent articles.
Lake Baikal changes its face every season. July and August are the best months for swimming, sunbathing and also for the summer activities like trekking, camping, biking, hiking through taiga, fishing and kayaking. During the hot period the shore is crowded with tourists.
Baikal’s isolated ecosystem has evolved independently for millennia. That is why the lake and coastal areas are characterized by a unique variety of flora and fauna, most of the species are endemic, which means you can see them nowhere else in the world. Of some 2,000 aquatic life forms, 1,200 are endemic, including Nerpa, fresh water seal, the only example of its type on the earth. The nearest relative of the Nerpa is the Arctic ringed seal, nearly 2,000 miles away. One great mystery about the lake is how nerpa, the Baikal seal, originally came here, as it is hundreds of kilometers away from any ocean.
The omul, an arctic fish endemic to Lake Baikal, became a symbol of Baikal. This fish belongs to the salmon family and there are five omul species in the lake. It is considered that the ancestors of omul came to Lake Baikal from the Arctic Ocean. One hypothesis is that a group of omul, going with the stream up Arctic rivers to spawn, arrived in Lake Baikal and took a fancy to these places for breeding and development. At present, omul is a valuable commercial fish.
Baikal is rich in life at all depths. Its cold waters move vertically, carrying oxygen even to the 1,642 meter bottom. The golomyanka, a transparent, glass-like fish, also lives only in Lake Baikal. If interested, yandex the net for more information of this unique fish – you'll definitely appreciate it, finding some astonishing facts.
The Buryats living around Baikal for many centuries had settled the lake’s shores long before the 13th century. According to legends and some historical notes, lands of contemporary Buryatia are the birthplace of Genghis Khan's ancestors. The Baikal is one of Asia’s holy places. Buryats have quite a few legends about spirits and sacred sites of Lake Baikal. Over the centuries they have prayed to the lake and have believed in its power. Various names such as Sacred Lake, Spiritual Waters and the Holy Sea have been given to the Baikal.
The water of the lake never gets really warm. In August its average surface temperature along the shore is + 15 C. Below the surface, the water temperature drops. Even in summertime at a depth of 50 meters, the temperature is about + 5 C. Many people who go for their first swim in the lake behave as if they have jumped into boiling water.
The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The Baikal Mountains on the north shore and the taiga are protected as national parks. One of our next articles will be devoted to the natural wonders of these parks.
Lake Baikal, the “Sacred Sea of Siberia”, or the “Blue Pearl of Russia”, is one of Russia’s most prized treasures, designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Everyone who has been to its shores is deeply impressed and charmed by its grandeur, size, and unique might.