Just an hour and a half away from Irkutsk is Lake Baikal – the world’s largest freshwater lake. It contains one fifth of the world’s freshwater and is famed for its beauty as well as its immensity. When I looked at the lake on a map and compared it to the lake we had already seen in Mongolia it seemed unbelievable to me. I had thought Lake Khovsgal was huge – but this one was maybe eight times as big, appearing in the map like a large blue gash in the landscape.
I had found a guesthouse in a little village called Bolshie Koty a bit further up from the normal entry point of the lake. The village could only be accessed by a 30-minute ferry ride or by a 16 km walk around the edge of the lake. In winter, when the lake is frozen it is possible to walk over the ice. I’m glad we took the ferry.
We were all set for a peaceful three days of rest and relaxation by the lake, except there was one hitch. We had arrived without enough money, after finding that the ATM at the ferry terminal was broken and the other one in the post office was closed for Sunday. We felt pretty foolish but we weren’t too worried, thinking that we could go back the next day on the ferry – until we found out there was only one return ferry a day, so there would be no way to come back to the village again until the following day!
Then in one of those beautiful little “coincidences” in life, it turned out that our guesthouse owner was very good friends with the owners of the guesthouse we had stayed at in Irkutsk and he very kindly lent us some money and we organised to repay him back in Irkutsk. Alexey is in fact a very widely travelled vipassana meditator and the on the very day we arrived he had started work on building a yoga and meditation room!
Three days passed all too quickly at this quiet little hamlet village, nestled in a valley next to the lake. It turned out that we didn’t need much money as the local shop didn’t sell much more than pasta, chocolate, tinned foods and of course an enormous range of vodka.
(Roberto negotiating the purchases at the local shop using our extensive Russian vocabarly – one word – skollka – meaning how much and how many)
While the edge of the lake offered walking trails we were content to spend most of the time at the guesthouse as it had a mesmerising view overlooking both the village and the lake. We could also see the snow-capped mountain range on the other side of the lake, almost 50 kms away, reminding us that we were actually by a lake rather than at the seaside.
I also loved taking a little stroll around the village, looking at the horses, cows and chickens and generally observing the slow pace of village life.
Being springtime it was delightfully pleasant and picturesque. I can’t imagine what it would be like in winter when the temperature drops to below 40 degrees. I’m glad we visited at this time of year, but I do feel kind of curious to see Siberia in all her winter glory. Maybe next time!