RIVER ANGARA — THE OFFSPRING OF LAKE BAIKAL.
Should one decide to spend one’s holiday on River Angara, it is highly recommended to start one’s trip from the upper reaches of Lake Baikal’s only daughter. Then, depending on one’s schedule and means of transportation, one can travel either the whole stretch of the river, or just certain reaches of it of one’s preference, make stops and rest along the way. Everything depends on one’s interests, preferences and available means. But without visiting the upper reaches of the river, without getting acquainted with Angara’s great father — the glorious Lake Baikal one would not be able to fully apprehend the splendour and, in many ways, the unique character of the river.
There are as many as 300 to 400 tributaries (the count varies between the authors) that drain into Lake Baikal, while River Angara is the only one to emerge from it. It is being bom not at the actual river head, but rather in the mysterious depths of Lake Baikal, from where it emerges as completely «mature» river full of developed life within its kilometre-wide flow. Do not hesitate, go down to the bank, wade into the cold and clear current, wash your face and hands and take a sip... no, not from a crystal tumbler, not from a well-used backpack cup. Drink this transparent, tasty and... very ancient water from the cup of your own hands. Yes, ancient! This very mouthful, this water (the molecules of water that were in your hands) could have been easily used by one of the first Russian explorers from the XVI-XVII centuries. It could have quenched the thirst of that herbivorous dinosaurs, whose vertebra is now displayed in Lake Baikal Museum of Ecology. The water you just drank could be several hundred years of age, could be several thousand or a couple of tens of million years old.
Lake Baikal contains 23000 km3 of water — more than all five North American Great Lakes combined. It shares about 60 km3 of water a year with its only daughter, River Angara, thus the complete water renewal would occur in a trifle short of400 years. However, there is natural mixing of water, thus it is not inconceivable that some, or at least one molecule of water in that mouthful was straying in Lake Baikal for millennia before finding its way out of the ancient depression and returning into natural circulation. Try to feel or imagine this antiquity, to apprehend in heart, let alone in mind, the message coded in those ancient molecules of water. It might well be that the presence of water with anomalous unit weight could be explained in terms of its antiquity and information load. Nobody yet managed to give an unambiguous explanation to the delicious taste of Lake Baikal water. Under the existent
conditions of low mineralization, it should be simply tasteless, like distilled water is, but it is admirably delicious and smooth instead.
The native nationalities of The Lakeside region sanctify The Lake, treating it not like a mere water-body, but rather as a live, intelligent and wise being. A host of legends and superstitions is associated with it. A native Bouryat would never take a liberty of needlessly throwing a stone from the beach into the water: «Baikal washed the stone ashore here, and that is where it belongs!» The sacred character of the lake was also accepted (or probably just perceived) by the first Russian explorers.
Father-Baikal is one of the greatest natural wonders. The deeper scientists go into its mysteries, the more they discover. This lake is in many respects unequalled on Earth. There is about 2630 animal and plant species there, more than 60% of which are endemic. The lake is inhabited by delicious endemic fish omul, and another endemic is viviparous (live-bearing) golomyanka. Lake Baikal seal, yet another endemic, had presumably found its passage into the lake from the Arctic Ocean via a route yet unexplained.
By a number of basic parameters — age, size, depth, volume of water and its transparence and purity, diversity and endemism of organic life, Lake Baikal appears as most uncommon fresh-water body, most of its features being there with extraordinary on global scale. Clear and transparent air and water, numerous beautiful bays and gulfs, comfortable beaches, picturesque landscapes with boundless expanses of forests, mountains and the water-plane of the lake itself, plentiful sunshine and countless medicinal springs, healthy climate, unique animal and plant world excite keen interest and attract thousands of travellers. The mainstream of tourists eager to see The Lake visit the upper reaches of River Angara. The river emerges between the settlement Listvyanka (right shore) and Port Baikal (left shore) 73 km away from Irkutsk along the Baikal Freeway. This is a sight of grandeur: River Angara carrying its waters away from Lake Baikal in a rapid and full-flowing current. The width of the river is about 1 km at the head, maximum depth 4-6 m, the minimum one 0.5-0.7 m. From the middle of the riverbed, there rises a rock cliff that is never overflown by the current, the so called «Shaman Cliff», protected by state as a natural relic mentioned in the legends of old times. The transparence of River Angara headwaters is the same as that in Lake Baikal, where a white disc 30 cm in diameter is visible down to the depth of 40 m. Sports fishing of grayling with a spinning reel from the shore is very popular in the shallow and swift headwaters of the river between Shaman Cliff and the village Nikola.
The upper reaches of the river in winter are the most peculiar sights. Relatively warm deep water from the lake, pushing its way into the river, prevents freezing. Thus, before cooling enough to freeze, the water travels for 10-15 km downstream, covering the riverside in deep fog. About 12-15 thousand birds of various waterfowl species stay over the winter in the consequent stationary ice leader. The birds migrate between the open water to feed during the day and the snow-covered expanses of lake Baikal for the night.
Listvyanka is a comparatively small settlement (2.3 thousand people) that stretches between the shore of the lake and the foot of a high hill for about 5 km. Prior to the construction of the railroad, the waterway to the eastern coast of the lake began there. The settlement is well-known for its ship-yard, where most of the ships currently operating on Lake Baikal lines were either built from scratch or assembled, including the special research vessels for the Institute of Limnology and Meteorological Service.
The building of Lake Baikal Museum of Ecology that performs research of Lake Baikal and other lakes and artificial water-bodies of Siberia is located not far from Listvyanka, on a steep shore of the riverside hill. Diverse exhibition of the museum tells about the origin and the history of the lake, its flora and fauna, geological structure of Baikal Rift Depression, climate and tectonics of The Lakeside region.
Uphill from the river-head, on the coastal terraces, there stand the buildings of sanatorium «Baikal», hotel complex «Intourist», and a tourist lounge «Pribaikal’skaya». A path that starts from the sanatorium «Baikal» winds its way up to the « * Tcherskii Cliff» (700 m), a popular observation post for excursions, where a wonderful panorama of the lake, Angara river-head and its valley comes readily into view.
The port and the settlement Baikal are located on the opposite bank of the river-head on a narrow strip of flat ground carved into a inountain. In spite of its small population (below 1 thousand people), it is an important transportation junction — the terminal railroad station and a home port for the major Lake Baikal line to Nizhneangarsk. It is also known as one of the principle locations for the construction of Circum-Baikal Railroad in early XX century and as a ferry terminal for shuttling trains and passengers on ice-breaker ferries «Baikal» and «Angara». The Circum-Baikal Railroad, a masterpiece in the art of transportation, with dozens of tunnels, bridges, viaducts, surf-breakers is a material evidence of Russian engineering genius. Unfortunately, it survived only partially to the present, preserving, however, its potential for recreation and tourism.
There is a variety of aquatic routes either from the upper reaches of River Angara or Irkutsk (via Irkutsk Reservoir) to Lake Baikal, the longest being the one to Maloye More (a bay located between the lake’s largest island Olkhon and the mainland) famous for its omul fishing, and then to the northernmost end of the lake, to the towns Severobaikal’sk and Nizhneangarsk (628 km), serviced by a comfortable and fast hydrofoil ship «Kome-ta». Another route from Irkutsk to Ust’-Barguzin on the east coast of the lake (435 km) is serviced by a hovercraft «Barguzin»; the same craft servicing communications between Irkutsk and municipalities on the west coast of Lake Baikal — Listvyanka, Bol’shaya Goloustnaya, the tourist’s jem Peschanaya Bay (146 km), and another hydrofoil ship «Voskhod» servicing the line from Irkutsk to Listvyanka to Bolshiye Koty (80 km).
* Tcherskii — a famous Siberian researcher and explorer.