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November, 20, 2016

Islands of Baikal

Baikal is not just the lake. It includes plains, mountains, and islands. There are many of them, but the exact number is still unknown. Scientists provide different numbers - from 19 to 47.

Such a divergence of opinions is due to the fact that the lake is full of small islands, some of which are separate large rocks, boulders, or clusters of pebbles.

The largest of them are Olkhon Island, the Ushkany islands, and the Svyatoy Nos peninsula.

Olkhon is the biggest of them: with a length of 73.5 km and a width of up to 15 km, it has a total area of about 730 sq. km. It is separated from the mainland by the straits of the Small Sea and Olkhonskiye Vorota. To the east of the island is the deepest place of Baikal (1642 m). The island's name comes from the Buryat word "Oikhon" - "little forest" or "a little woody," since forests cover just over a third of the surface. Olkhon experiences only 48 cloudy days per year. The amount of precipitation per year on average does not exceed 140 mm. In this regard, the island can only be compared to certain arid areas of Central Asia. 

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The island is a geographical, historical, and sacral center of Baikal, and the focus of ancient legends and historical tales. The area is filled with historical monuments of Olkhon, and there is no other like it in the whole Baikal region: there are 143 known archaeological sites (burial grounds, ancient settlements, the remnants of stone walls).
 

There are no dangerous predators on Olkhon, and almost no mosquitos and midges. Summers are mostly sunny and warm, the water in the bays is warm and attracts many tourists.

The Ushkany Islands archipelago, consisting of four islands, is located in the north-eastern part of the lake. Three small islands are Tonkiy, Dolgiy, and Kruglyi (Thin, Long, and Round).

They are located in the middle of the lake, rising above the water as part of the Akademicheskiy Ridge. The islands are composed of marble of a variety of different colors. The archipelago is a conservation area, home to Nerpa (Baikal seal), so the rangers closely watch all visitors and keep them away from the rookeries.

The largest of them is Bolshoy Ushkany Island, with an area of 9 sq. km. This is where a site was discovered where people had lived between 3000 BC-2000 BC.

The largest peninsula,  (“Holy Nose”), is located not far from the archipelago. With a length of 53 km and a width of 20 km, it has a total area of 596 sq. km. Buryat shamans have long been carrying out ritual ceremonies on the island, honoring the spirits of nature. The peninsula is called “Khilmen Khushun” in the Buryat language, which translates as "Sturgeon's Muzzle." In XVII-XVIII centuries, by “nose” Russian explorers actually meant the cape. Initially, the south-western cape of the Peninsula, Nizhnee Izgolovie, was called Svyatoy Nos. The name then was given to the whole territory of the peninsula.

Among the many islands of Baikal, there are numerous natural monuments. For example, Bolshoi Baklaniy (Big Cormorant) island is a state landscape monument of nature. The island has a total area of 0.33 sq. km, with a width of 250 m and a height of about 25 m above the water of the gulf.

It got its name, most likely, from what was once one of the largest cormorant nesting sites. The island is currently inhabited by capercailzies which are famous for their springtime courting display known as “lek”.
The shores of the island are rocky on one side and flat on the other, with a small beach. There is also a site of a multilayered settlement of the Bronze Age.

In the northern part of the lake, there is another rocky island - Borakchin (Oltrek). Tourists rarely visit this place, so its nature and beauty remain intact. Borakchin is a neighboring island od Olkhon. The locals call it “crocodile” for its shape that resembles the reptile. On this island, you can find the remnants of structures built by the Kurykan people – the most ancient civilization of Baikal.
From above, Ogoy Island resembles a dancing girl with outstretched arms or a genie from a fairy tale. The elongated shape of Ogoy is very similar to that of Olkhon. However, people have never lived here. Herring gulls have been and still are its main inhabitants.
Not far from the Olkhon, there is another peninsula - Kobylya Golova (“Mare’s Head” - “Chorin-Irgi” in Buryat). The name stems from the fact that one of its capes is shaped like a horse's head. The peninsula includes several beautiful rocky headlands, coves and even a small lake. It still has traces of people who lived here five thousand years ago. In 1981, the peninsula was given the status of a natural monument.

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