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November, 20, 2016

Baikal Myths and Legends

Since ancient times, there have been many myths and legends about Lake Baikal. It is no wonder that the lake keeps attracting shamans and mysticists from all over the world.

Most of the legends about the lake's origin, its people and holy places are very old and are passed on from generation to generation. Even today, Baikal still has many mysteries, and new myths never cease to appear.

Of course, the main legend is the one about how Baikal came to be. A Buryat legend says that a long time ago, there has been a great earthquake. The ground came apart, and flame was raging from beneath. The fire was devouring everything in its way. People prayed to all the gods to stop the flame, but no answer came. In despair, people cried, Bay gal! (Fire, stop!). Miraculously, the fire died away; instead, the rift was filled by clear water. This is how Lake Baikal appeared.

However, another legend has a romantic twist to it. A rich man named Baikal had a beautiful daughter, Angara. The old man was strict and didn't want his daughter to see young men. But Angara heard from the seagulls about Yenisei, a handsome and merry man, and had been dreaming about him ever since. Her father found this out, locked her up and said he would find her a husband to his liking. Right before the arranged wedding, Angara ran away, and her father has never seen her again. He cried until his last day, and his tears turned into Lake Baikal. Angara became the only river that flows from Baikal, like a girl running to see her beloved. 

Another legend says that one day at sunset, a fiery dragon came. A smash of his tail cracked the earth, and his breath melted snow and ice on mountaintops; the water filled the crack that became Lake Baikal. Flowers and trees sprouted everywhere, birds sang and animal roamed around the lake, and the dragon went to sleep at its bottom. Every 120 years the dragon would come out of the lake, and people would greet him with festivities. But there was a year when people forgot about the Fiery Dragon, and in his wrath, he flooded everything with water. Nobody has not heard about the dragon ever since; only Lake Baikal remained.

Even today, Baikal is full of mysteries. Rumours have it that sometimes you can see shapes of horsemen in the fog. The ghostly figures ride straight at people, and there is no way to explain it. Locals believe this is the sunken army of Khasan Choson, a cruel local ruler from old times. He wanted to conquer the Evenki tribes that lived on the other side of the lake, and ordered his army to march across the lake's ice to save time. The ice cracked, and nobody lived. Ever since, the restless souls of the warriors have been trying to cross Baikal.

A more modern legend tells about Admiral Kolchak's golden treasure. Before WWI, Russia had the world's largest gold reserve—1,311 tonnes of gold. Some of it went to pay the loans, and the rest was taken to Kazan to keep it safe away from the capital. In August 1918, the Whites took Kazan with all the gold and moved the treasure to Omsk, which was Admiral Alexander Kolchak's seat at the time.

In the end of 1919, Kolchak had to leave Omsk. Several trains and a special armoured train were ready to transport the gold, but with no luck. The gold reserve was captured by the Red Army. However, soon they found out that some 182 tonnes of gold were missing! Moreover, some boxes were full of stones and bricks instead of gold!

The legend has it that some of the gold made it from Irkutsk, but there was a train wreck, and the railcars with gold sank in Baikal. Old people say that the train wreck was arranged by the Red Army. The place where the train sank is 1,400 metres deep, but some gold was recovered. Since then, scientists and treasure hunters have been looking for Admiral Kolchak's gold.

Another legend tells about the times of WWII. In winter of 1941, a group of geologists went to Severomuysky Range to search for uranium ore. They were lucky to find not only uranium, but gold deposits as well. On 22 June, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union; war broke out, but the geologists were told to continue working until a new group comes. They carried on their research up until 1944, but most of the group died due to an unknown disease. The remaining eight people tried to get to the Baikal shore on their own. All they had with them were samples of uranium ore and 20 kg of gold. Only two of them made it to the shore. They found a boat, but never reached their destination. A strong storm washed them ashore a small island. They decided to bury the gold there to lighten their load. The gold is probably still there, somewhere in the middle of Baikal. Many locals believe that the island in question is one of the Ushkan islets.

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