It may be some time before I can raise my arms again – I’m not used to paddling.
I’ve spent an afternoon kayaking on Lake Baikal with Irinka who is a geologist and local tour guide.
Baikal is, trivia fans, the world’s largest freshwater lake and the deepest on the planet. It’s also about 50miles from Irkutsk, following the River Angara which is the only river to flow out of the Lake.
Irinka was concerned that the waters were going to be quite rough today and, as it’s been at least 20 years since I last paddled, she recommended we stay close to the shore.
After she and Dennis had constructed the kayak…
…Irinka and I set off paddling across the mouth of the River Angara.
While we were keeping close to shore, we had to strike out to the middle of the river to reach the Shaman Stone. (Once Irinka sends me the photos, there should be some good shots of the scenery).
The stories of the Shaman Stone, the River Angara and Lake Baikal are all tied together in a local legend of family violence.
Some geology first.
The Shaman Stone is a rock near the source of the Angara, and is one of the symbols of Lake Baikal. All of the tour trips from Irkutsk mention it but unless everyone is sailing out to the rock (and there would be a queue of boats in the Summer) there isn’t a great view of it from land.
Only a small tip of the Shaman Stone is visible above the water, protruding about 1m but, stretching the comparison, it’s like an iceberg and is a rock massif dividing the river into two parts lies beneath the service. It is also a boundary between the river and the lake.
So, back to the legend…
Baikal was the father of over 300 sons, rivers which all flow into the lake. His only daughter was the river Angara. Baikal wanted her to marry Irkut (a small river, not to be confused with Irkutsk) but Angara wanted to marry Yenisei.
More geology trivia, pub quiz enthusiasts… Yenisei is the largest river system, that includes Angara, to flow into the Arctic Ocean. It’s also one of the three biggest Siberian rivers, the other two being Ob and Lena.
Baikal refused to give consent for Angara to choose Yenisei and locked her in a dungeon – not demonstrating any controlling behaviour at all.
Angara’s brothers helped to free her and she escaped, leaving the lake. Baikal was furious and hurled a fragment of mountain top block her escape… or crush her, if his aim had been poor.
He missed and she escaped, with the Shaman Stone seperating Lake and River, father and daughter ever since.
Across the mouth of the river, on the opposite shore is Baykal. It’s a graveyard of rusting ships. Most of these are tugs and barges and, while it’s fascinating to see them, they’ve symptomatic of the pollution in the Lake.
Baikal is a source of fresh fish for the local towns and we saw two or three small fishing boats with cormorants and gulls squawking behind them. It’s also home to Nerpa or Baikal Seals and I was delighted when Irinka pointed out a small black head watching us in the waves.
However, there are concerns over increasing pollution, not only dumped directly into the lake itself but coming via the rivers that drain into the lake.
To have been in such a beautiful place, floating on the waves with a clear blue sky above us, it is horrific to think of the damage that is being done here.
On return to our starting point, we paddled past a nearby restaurant where a wedding was taking place. We may have photobombed a few shots by accident as we pulled the kayak into the beach and began dismantling it.
We weren’t exactly 007-like as we clambered out of the boat and brought out our picnic.
*Featured Photo: A view of Lake Baikal as the mist began to clear.