Located in the former northern territory of the Xiongnu confederation, Lake Baikal is one site of the Han—Xiongnu War , where the armies of the Han dynasty pursued and defeated the Xiongnu forces from the second century BC to the first century AD. Russian expansion into the Buryat area around Lake Baikal  in —58 was part of the Russian conquest of Siberia. It was done first by following the Angara River upstream from Yeniseysk founded and later by moving south from the Lena River.
Russians first heard of the Buryats in at Tomsk. According to folktales related a century after the fact, in , Demid Pyanda , who may have been the first Russian to reach the Lena, crossed from the upper Lena to the Angara and arrived at Yeniseysk.
To the west, Krasnoyarsk on the upper Yenisei was founded in A number of ill-documented expeditions explored eastward from Krasnoyarsk. In , Pyotr Beketov first encountered a group of Buryats and collected yasak tribute from them at the future site of Bratsk. In , Yakov Khripunov set off from Tomsk to find a rumored silver mine. His men soon began plundering both Russians and natives. They were joined by another band of rioters from Krasnoyarsk, but left the Buryat country when they ran short of food.
This made it difficult for other Russians to enter the area. In , Maksim Perfilyev built an ostrog at Bratsk. The pacification was moderately successful, but in , Bratsk was destroyed and its garrison killed. In , Bratsk was restored by a punitive expedition under Radukovskii. In , it was besieged unsuccessfully. In , Perfilyev crossed from the Angara over the Ilim portage to the Lena River and went downstream as far as Olyokminsk. Returning, he sailed up the Vitim River into the area east of Lake Baikal where he heard reports of the Amur country. In , Verkholensk was founded on the upper Lena.
Half his party under Skorokhodov remained on the lake, reached the Upper Angara at its northern tip, and wintered on the Barguzin River on the northeast side. In , Ivan Pokhabov went up the Angara to Baikal, becoming perhaps the first Russian to use this route, which is difficult because of the rapids. He crossed the lake and explored the lower Selenge River. About , he repeated the trip, obtained guides, and visited a 'Tsetsen Khan' near Ulan Bator. In , Ivan Galkin built an ostrog on the Barguzin River which became a center for eastward expansion.
Next spring, he tried to occupy Nerchensk, but was forced by his men to join Stephanov on the Amur. Nerchinsk was destroyed by the local Tungus, but restored in The Trans-Siberian Railway was built between and Construction of the scenic railway around the southwestern end of Lake Baikal required bridges and 33 tunnels. Until its completion, a train ferry transported railcars across the lake from Port Baikal to Mysovaya for a number of years. The lake became the site of the minor engagement between the Czechoslovak legion and the Red Army in At times during winter freezes, the lake could be crossed on foot, though at risk of frostbite and deadly hypothermia from the cold wind moving unobstructed across flat expanses of ice.
The wind on the exposed lake was so cold, many people died, freezing in place until spring thaw. Beginning in , the impounding of the Irkutsk Dam on the Angara River raised the level of the lake by 1. As the railway was built, a large hydrogeographical expedition headed by F. Drizhenko produced the first detailed contour map of the lake bed. Buryat shaman on Olkhon Island. Steam locomotive on the Circum-Baikal Railroad. Several organizations are carrying out natural research projects on Lake Baikal.
Most of them are governmental or associated with governmental organizations. The Baikalian Research Centre is an independent research organization carrying out environmental educational and research projects at Lake Baikal. It consists of optical modules. The lake, nicknamed "the Pearl of Siberia", drew investors from the tourist industry as energy revenues sparked an economic boom.
In , the Russian government declared the Baikal region a special economic zone. A popular resort in Listvyanka is home to the seven-story Hotel Mayak.
Lake Baikal is a popular destination among tourists from all over the world. According to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, in , 79, foreign tourists visited Irkutsk and Lake Baikal; in , , visitors. The most popular places to stay by the lake are Listvyanka village, Olkhon Island, Kotelnikovsky cape, Baykalskiy Priboi, resort Khakusy and Turka village.
The popularity of Lake Baikal is growing from year to year, but there is no developed infrastructure in the area. For the quality of service and comfort from the visitor's point of view, Lake Baikal still has a long way to go. The ice road to Olkhon Island is the only legal ice road on Lake Baikal. The route is prepared by specialists every year and it opens when the ice conditions allow it.
In , the ice road to Olkhon was open from 17 February to 23 March. Baikal has a number of different tourist activities, depending on season. Generally Baikal has two top tourist seasons. The first season is ice season, which starts usually in mid-January and lasts till mid-April. This allows access to the figures of ice that are formed at rocky banks of Olkhon Island , including Cape Hoboy, the Three Brothers rock, and caves to the North of Khuzhir.
It also provides access to small islands like Ogoy Island and Zamogoy. The ice itself has a transparency of one meter depth, having different patterns of crevasses, bubbles, and sounds. Some tourists may spot a Baikal seal along the route. Local entrepreneurs offer overnight in Yurt on ice. Also this season attracts fans of ice fishing. This activity is most popular on Buryatia side of Baikal Ust-Barguzin. Non-fishermen may try fresh Baikal fresh fish on local markets in villages Listvyanka , Ust-Barguzin.
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The ice season ends in mid-April. Owing to increasing temperatures ice starts to melt and becomes shallow and fragile, especially in places with strong under-ice flows. Vehicles and people start to fall under ice. This leads to many casualties every year. Second tourist season is summer, which lets tourists dive deeper into virgin Baikal nature.
Hiking trails become open,  many of them cross two mountain ranges: Baikal Range on the western side and Barguzin Range on the eastern side of Baikal. The most popular trail starts in Listvyanka and goes along the Baikal coast to Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
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It has a lower difficulty level and could be passed by people without special skills and gear. Small tourist vessels operate in the area, availing bird-watching, animal watching especially Baikal seal , and fishing. Water in the lake stays extremely cold in most places does not exceed 10 C most of the year , but in few gulfs like Chivirkuy it can be comfortable for swimming.
Olkhon's most-populated village Khuzhir is an ecotourist destination. The plant bleached paper using chlorine and discharged waste directly into Lake Baikal. The decision to construct the plant on the Lake Baikal resulted in strong protests from Soviet scientists; according to them, the ultra-pure water of the lake was a significant resource and should have been used for innovative chemical production for instance, the production of high-quality viscose for the aeronautics and space industries. The Soviet scientists felt that it was irrational to change Lake Baikal's water quality by beginning paper production on the shore.
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It was their position that it was also necessary to preserve endemic species of local biota, and to maintain the area around Lake Baikal as a recreation zone. Later that year on 13 January , Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin introduced changes in the legislation legalising the operation of the plant; this action brought about a wave of protests from ecologists and local residents. Environmental activists in Russia,  Greenpeace, Baikal pipeline opposition  and local citizens  were strongly opposed to these plans, due to the possibility of an accidental oil spill that might cause significant damage to the environment.
According to the Transneft's president, numerous meetings with citizens near the lake were held in towns along the route, especially in Irkutsk. Critics and environmentalists argued it would be a disaster for the region and are urging the government to reconsider. Uranium tailings contain radioactive and toxic materials, which if improperly stored, are potentially dangerous to humans and can contaminate rivers and lakes. An enrichment center was constructed in the s. Chinese owned AquaSib has been purchasing land along the lake and started building a bottling plant and pipeline in the town of Kultuk.
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The goal was to export million liters of water to China even though the lake had been experiencing historically low water levels. This spurred protests by the local population that the lake would be drained of its water, at which point the local government halted the plans pending analysis. According to The Moscow Times and Vice , an increasing number of an invasive species of algae thrives in the lake from hundreds of tons of liquid waste, including fuel and excrement, regularly disposed into the lake by tourist sites, and up to 25, tons of liquid waste are disposed of every year by local ships.
The first European to reach the lake is said to have been Kurbat Ivanov in According to 19th-century traveler T. Atkinson, locals in the Lake Baikal Region had the tradition that Christ visited the area:. The people have a tradition in connection with this region which they implicitly believe.
They say "that Christ visited this part of Asia and ascended this summit, whence he looked down on all the region around.