The Island of Olkhon: 300 Days of Sun and Wind

The Island of Olkhon: 300 Days of Sun and Wind

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Olkhon is not only the largest island of Baikal. It is also rightly considered the heart of the Great Lake.

If you look at the map, you may notice that the Island of Olkhon partially repeats the contours of Baikal, approaching the eastern coast of the Lake almost in the middle. The Island stretches for 73 km, making up about 15 kilometers at its widest point.

The deepest point of the Lake is 1642 meters and is located just a little to the East of Olkhon. Millions of years ago the island “broke away” from the mainland. Thus the Maloe More Strait emerged, which is the favorite place of rest of the residents of Irkutsk and its visitors, as well as the Olkhon Gate Strait where a ferry is arranged to get to the island that is just a bit longer than two kilometers.

The History of Olkhon

The island is considered to be sacred by the local population. Olkhon has a well established fame of the place of power. The sacral Center of Baikal is located here, which is represented by the two main objects - the Zhima Mountain and the Burkhan Cape. The name of the mountain derives from the Buryat word “ezhen” meaning “owner”. According to one version, in ancient times, before Buryats came here, Mongols had lived on the island, including one mighty shaman Nagrai Boo. When the relocation of Mongols started, the shaman asked them to leave him on Olkhon. The Supreme God of Heaven Tengri let him stay and gave him the mountain as his Palace. According to the legend, an immortal bear is forever chained to the mountain somewhere at its foot.

The Burkhan Cape is the second sacred point of the island. The Master of Olkhon lives here. It is believed that the Master of Olkhon has the power over a clan of the Baikal spirits, he married the Daughter of the Eastern Sky and his Son is the Eagle. In honor of the Olkhon “ezhen” people arrange “obo” - ritual places where colored ribbons are tied to tree branches as a kind of gift to the spirits of this place.

There is a beautiful version that the tomb of Genghis Khan is situated on Olkhon. It is supposed that the ashes of the great warrior, as well as his treasures, can be found in one of the caves somewhere at the back of the island. The same place serves as the storage of the mythical vessels with “live blood” which should revive Genghis Khan at the appointed hour. This is one of the many legends and myths that surround the island. Historians, archaeologists, folklorists have been studying Olkhon for already more than 200 years. During this time they have found more than 140 archaeological monuments: ancient settlements, sites, rock carvings, defensive and religious buildings, as well as the burial places of the ancient people…

Be as it may, not only archeological, but also esoteric importance of the Island is indisputable. This is the reason why representatives of a variety of spiritual directions like to use the place for their practices and meditations.

The Nature of Olkhon

Endemic natural landscapes help the Isalnd of Olkhon to maintain the image of a place with the unique energy on the Earth.

It is believed that the name of the island is derived from the Buryat word “olkhon” which is translated as “small forest”. There are really few forests on the island, but the variety of flora, apparently subtle as it is, is striking. All species diversity, perhaps, is present here: steppes with the bays well warmed by the summer sun, sandy beaches with long dunes, hills, coniferous groves, dense mixed forests, marble cliffs, rocky areas covered with red moss, marshes rich in aquatic plants.

One square meter of the local steppe can contain up to 60 different species of herbal plants!

Olkhon also has real botanical monuments. For example, the western slope of the Zhima Mountain is covered with the relic fir trees. This fact was discovered in the middle of the 1960s by the local historian, a teacher of the Khuzhir secondary school Nikolai Revyakin. The uniqueness of the relic fir trees of the Zhima Mountain lies in the fact that they have survived here in the dry climate of the island since the ice age solely due to the presence of groundwater.

Olkhon is a sunny island. There are only 48 cloudy days per year. But the amount of precipitation is very small, similar to some areas of the Central Asia: this is why the sands tend to cover the fertile plots of soil and gradually turn some parts of the island into a desert. The Southern Olkhon is the driest place at Lake Baikal. Besides, it’ is permanently windy here. Northwestern wind blows at an average speed of 15 m/s for about 150 days per year.

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Winters on the island are milder, and the summers here are cooler than on the mainland. Spring comes on the average half a month later, but the soft mellow autumn lasts longer than usual.

 

 

Up to 135 species of birds nest on Olkhon today, about twenty species of mammals live here, including the unique Olkhon field vole. Unfortunately, sable was exterminated here back in the 17th century, when the Cossacks first entered the island under the leadership of Kurbat Ivanov. Unfortunately, the following species are also no longer met at Olkhon: imperial eagle, bustard, gannet, Siberian red deer and roe deer. When there were massive fires on the mainland in the summer of 2015, several bears sailed to the island through the Maloe More Strait. They were caught and transported to the forests on the eastern coast of the island.

Travels to the Island of Olkhon

Undoubtedly, Olkhon is very attractive for tourists due to all of the above reasons and descriptions. Here you can arrange a rest for every taste: the famous beach of Sarayskiy Bay begins from the Burkhan Cape and ends in the village of Kharantsy - its length exceeds 3 kilometers, the water is warm here and the sand is fine and white. Hiking in the forest is not dangerous: there are no predators; besides, it is impossible to get lost. In addition, the island has no ticks bearing encephalitis... The dishes of Buryat cuisine, the famous Baikal omul, the opportunity to connect with the local culture. Finally, there are lots of unique natural monuments and objects with their beauty replicated in thousands of photos: these views are the way many people learn to know about Baikal and its main gem - Olkhon Lake – all over the world. And the first item in this series is the Burkhan Cape, or Shamanka.

Shamanka

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Today this twin-peaked rock is recognized as one of the sacred places of Asia. The famous Shaman Cave is located in the part that is closer to the coast. The length of the passage amounts to about 12 meters, its width amounts up to 4.5 meters, its height ranges from one meter to six meters. The cave has two entrances, as well as side corridors and a narrow vent. Shamans are conducting rites here, which is why the entrance to the cave is forbidden for women.

Burkhan Cape is a sacred place not only for shamans and their followers. It is, in a sense, a Temple of Nature, that’s why everybody with an open heart can feel his or her unity with Nature and Eternity here.

 

Khoboy 

Another natural monument - the Khoboy Cape - is located at the northernmost point of the island. The name of the Cape is translated from Buryat as “Fang” resembled by the rock from a certain perspective. From another perspective the rock looks like a Virgin (“Deva” in Russian). According to the Buryat legend, the Khoboy Cape is a petrified young woman who asked the gods to give her the same celestial Palace like the one that Tengri granted to her husband. As it is known, gods do not tolerate jealousy. Because of this Tengri turned the young jealous woman into a rock. In some versions the legend ends with the words: “As long as there is evil and envy on the Earth, you will be a rock”.  

An interesting effect of many-voiced echo can be observed at Khoboy.

And during good weather you can see the eastern shore of Lake Baikal - the Svyatoy Nos (“Holy Nose”) Peninsula.

Kurykanskaya Wall

The famous explorer I.D. Chersky found the so-called Kurykanskaya Wall on Olkhon, in its southern part, on the neck of land of the Khorgoy Cape at the end of the 1870s. The wall is attributed to the Kurykan culture. Today it is one of the best preserved ancient buildings of Olkhon. The wall’s height amounts up to two meters; the wall is built of large stones. The earth mound has also preserved. Flat stone slabs with globular and cylindrical recesses have been discovered behind the wall. These are probably altars. The age of the building is difficult to determine, but it presumably dates back to VII-VIII centuries BC.

Peschanoye Tract

Peschanoye Tract located 20 kilometers to the North of Khuzhir presents an absolutely different historical stratum of the island’s life. They were going to build a convict prison here in 1913. However, the First World War adjusted these plans. In the 1950s four barracks that belonged to the Gulag system were built here. The convicts worked at the Khuzhir fish plant. And the houses of special migrants who were deported from Lithuania, Western Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, etc. stood not far from the barracks. According to documents, people of 27 nationalities lived in Peschanoye. Those who managed to stay alive until 1956 were granted amnesty.

A memorial cross with the inscription “This place remembers the suffering of the victims of repression during the mid-20th century” was established here by the locals in April 2012.

The Ecology of Olkhon

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The unique nature of the island and its accessibility for tourists did a disservice to Olkhon: anthropogenic load on the unique nature of the island is high enough, and it has only increased in recent years in connection with the development of tourism. The steppe part of the island suffers from cars that ride not only through the already padded tracks: spontaneous new roads increase erosion. The island is “suffocating” from trash, fires are frequent in the forest part of the island. At the same Olkhon is a permanent place of application of powers of various environmental organizations that both arrange one-time movements and implement long-term projects here.

A burst of tourist activity began in 2006, when electricity was conducted to the island. Power line goes underwater, through the Olkhon Gate Strait. Cabling was carried out in difficult conditions, with the use of the technologies that are unique for Russia. The cable was enclosed in a plastic heavy-duty leak-proof pipe when it was on the land. Then the ships transported the pipe to the place where it was anchored to the bottom and protected by the bags with cement. The total cost of the underwater cable amounted to about 1.2 million euros, and the construction of the power line to Khuzhir - another 470 million roubles.

Tourists also don’t avoid vandalism and draw their initials on the rocks and shrines of Olkhon with a special ardor. Such actions destroy the things that nature has been creating for us over many centuries. Another important issue for the environment of the island is illegal logging by local residents, as well as chaotic household trash dump located in the area of the village of Khuzhir. The increased flow of tourists only contributes to the contamination of the island. Social organizations of the island have created a network of special places for trash collection, their locations are marked on the shield situated near the ferry.

How to Get to the Island

The island can be reached in different ways. First you go 256 km by car or bus from Irkutsk, then by ferry, and then about 30 km to Khuzhir - the main village of the island. The total travel time makes up about six hours.

In summer you can also sail to the island by a ship from Irkutsk.

In winter an ice road operates instead of the ferry. And during ice formation period you can reach the island only by a hovercraft.

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