The Mountain Land of Khamar-Daban

The Mountain Land of Khamar-Daban

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Our planet celebrates the International Day of the Mountains on December 11. We decided to tell you about the famous peaks of the Khamar-Daban Range. Because “only the mountains which you had not visited can be better than the mountains you have been to” (the quotation from the lyrics of a popular Russian song).

The world has been celebrating the International Day of Mountains on December 11 annually since 2003, as it has been proclaimed in the resolution of the UN General Assembly. This happened not by a mere chance. For example, the role of mountains in the development of the economic potential of states and the solution of socio-cultural problems is huge. In many countries, mountains contain reservoirs of fresh water or host nature reserves preserving various species of flora and fauna, or recreation and tourism areas, or simply places where a part of the population lives. However, current deterioration of the ecological situation in the world can ruin the well-being of the mountainous territories and their indigenous inhabitants, threaten to destroy the resources of the mountainous areas: all these facts have been the reason for the establishment of such an international holiday. In 2018 this holiday is celebrated for the 16th time in a row. According to the tradition, each year is devoted to a certain topic. The topic of this year is “the meaning of mountains”.

Khamar-Daban perfectly fits into this context. Its territory constitutes the basis for the Baikal biosphere reserve, the Tunkinsky national park, the Snezhinsky game reserve. In addition to this, Khamar-Daban is one of the most attractive places of the Baikal region, offering tourists the opportunity to admire amazing views of natural landscapes, breathe in the curative air or try, for example, to go mountain climbing.

“Pine Nut Pass”

The south-eastern coast of Baikal is framed by the severe but unusually interesting mountains of Khamar-Daban, we suggest that everyone who is going to travel to our unique lake should pay his/her attention to these mountains. Indeed, it is no coincidence that this mountain range enchanted the song author Yuri Vizbor so much that he wrote the following song:

The pass has seen another day.
The people have all gone away,
It seems that everywhere you come
You’ll see the same Khamar-Daban.

The history of the origin of Siberian geographical names is always interesting and mysterious. There are two most common explanations connected with the ambiguous translation of the Buryat word “khamar”. Some think this means a “nose”, and when linked to toponymy, it is understood as a “spur”, a “protrusion”. Others translate the word as “pine nuts”. And “Daban” means a “high mountain pass”. Thus, it gets a beautiful name “Pine Nut Pass” that stretches across the territory of Irkutsk Oblast and the Republic of Buryatia.

The experts believe that the place designated as Khamar-Daban today, was not named this way from the very beginning. Initially, this name applied to a small mountainous area separating two coastal plains (Kultuchnuya and Slyudyanskaya plains), and a narrow rocky cape protruding to the distance of more than 600 meters to the waters of Baikal in Kultuk Bay. This cape is called “Aikha-Shulun” by the indigenous Buryat population: this means “a terrible stone”.  Such a frightening name is explained by the fact that sacrifices were offered in this place some time ago. But if you want to find this place today, then ask for the Cape Shamansky (not to be confused with the Shaman Stone). And only then, much later, Khamar-Daban began to be used to designate the entire mountain range from the Tunkinskaya depression in the east and northeast to the Selenga Valley. Beginning from the late 19th century, this mountain range that was marked on all maps of the Russian Geographical Society as “Khamar Daban”.

The Creation of a Great Power

It is considered that Khamar-Daban is one of the oldest mountainous formations on the Earth. We are not going to deal with the complicated, purely scientific reasons for the dating of the mountain range; we would rather tell you one of the legends devoted to this process.

The power bursting from the depths of the Earth created the Sayan Mountains. When the Sayan Mountains cooled down, there was still a lot of power left  inside the Earth, there was some reserve. Then the remnants of the power drove the eastern and western Sayan Mountains apart, and then the underground power went from the Sayan Mountains to the east and lifted the ground on its way by small pushes. Where the pushes were stronger, the mountains rose higher, where the pushes were weaker, the ground turned into saddle areas. Many years after these mountains emerged, a lot of soil was carried there from the plain by the wind. The mountains were low, so they all got covered with earth. And all the cracks caused by the pushes, when the ground was lifted, were hidden under the soil carried by  the wind from the valleys. The sun was not scorching the Earth, so soon the ground got covered with forest. Then animals and birds appeared in the forest, people moved there to live closer to the mountains. And these mountains located to the east of the Sayan Mountains began to resemble a hooked nose, that was why the Buryats called them “Khamar-Daban”.

The broad bend of Khamar-Daban surrounds the picturesque coast of Baikal. It includes several impressive mountain ranges characterized by the absence of sharp peaks. These are bald mountains - the peaks having soft outlines, rising above the forest tops and covered with stone fields or stone rivers. The eastern side of Khamar-Daban rises high above all others, its separate tops are as high as 2300 meters above the sea level. They gradually descend to the valley of the Selenga River. The remaining heights are within 2000 meters, but the northern approach to Lake Baikal is steep, so the place has many picturesque rocky capes protruding into the lake.

The southern slope passes into the ridge of the Maly (“Small”) Khamar-Daban and the Selenga middle altitude region.

Khamar-Daban stretches from the west to the east for more than 350 km, its width making up 50-60 km. If we get to know Khamar-Daban, it consists of the oldest rocks - limestone, crystalline schists, gneisses (rocks similar to granites, in fact, their predecessors). The traces of former glaciation can also be found in the high-altitude area.

Siberian Jungle

The northern slopes of the Khamar-Daban ridge are a natural barrier for air currents moving over Baikal. That is why the climate on the northern side of the ridge is more temperate and humid. Khamar-Daban is often called “Siberian Jungle” due to this reason. And the climate on the southern slope is different - distinctly continental.

The ridge is very special in its structure and climatic features. The temperature background, to put it mildly, is not very favorable, besides, it cannot be called constant. The snow is generally the most common element of the landscape. It lies on the mountain peaks from September to June, its layer being as deep as 1 meter. Snow can often be encountered in high mountain areas, on plateaus and passes even in summer. August can bring weather phenomena of different seasons - snow blizzards, rains, warm sunny days... Therefore, everything happens like in a common joke: we have a short summer in Siberia, and, unfortunately, I had to work during that month. Therefore, if you are going to visit Khamar-Daban, try to get a vacation in July.

 The great difference in heights, challenging terrain, large scale of Khamar-Daban – all these things predetermined the unique diversity of local flora. You can observe it in person during the ascent, where the vegetation zones replace each other, ranging from impassable taiga to rocky stony tundra, with outcrops of moss. The most common forest tree species are considered the proud beautiful taiga cedar and larch. The banks of the ridge and Baikal itself are framed by pines, birches and mountain ashes. The pink-violet haze of blooming ledum (Daurian rhododendron) inevitably causes everyone’s admiration in spring. The next layers of the mountains present motley grasses of Alpine meadows, dwarf Siberian pines and dwarf birches. Above this altitude we can see only mountain tundra densely covered with lichens and moss.

Such an amazing natural and climatic diversity is accompanied by the richness of the fauna.

The Treasures of Khamar-Daban

The slopes of Khamar-Daban attract with the splendor of their rivers, lakes, waterfalls, mountain peaks. This place is the origin of many large rivers, including Selenga, Irkut and Temnik. Such rivers as Snezhnaya, Utulik, Pereyemnaya, Slyudyanka, Mishikha rapidly flow from the mountains of the ridge directly to Lake Baikal... Breaking through the crevices of Khamar-Daban, the rivers form picturesque rapids, cascades and waterfalls of different heights.

A twenty-meter-high waterfall on the Bolshaya Bystraya River (the right tributary of the Irkut River) strikes the imagination, and the Zangisan River has a real cascade where waterfalls fall in ledges on top of each other from a total height of 25 meters. The Krasnaya River, a tributary of Selenginka, can boast of the “Skazka” (“Fairy-Tale”) waterfall. The rapid small Gramotukha River is the place of origin of several waterfalls, the largest of them being Grokhotun, falling down from the height of 15 meters.

The rivers of Utulik, Temnik, Khara-Murin, Snezhnaya are perfectly fit for water tourism, although Snezhnaya has a twelve-meter waterfall that cannot be passed on the water, as well as rapids with the high complexity level.

The Mountain Land of Khamar-Daban

The Khamar-Daban Range has several lakes of glacial origin at the altitude of more than 600 meters: Sobolinoye Lake is the largest and the most popular among tourists, there are also the smaller Chyortovo Lake and the small, but incredibly beautiful, Heart Lake that received its name due to its unusual shape. We would like to tell you about the latter lake in more detail with the words of a romantic legend. Once a giant and a good wizard Khamar-Daban realized that it was time for him to get married. He found himself a bride - the daughter of the owner of the Mangi forest (this name meaning “bear”) – she was called Mangitaika. The girl was beautiful, but she wanted to marry the old man not because she loved him, but because she wanted to take hold of his wealth. And the naive kind Khamar-Daban was ready to give all the treasures of the Earth to Mangitaika. However, the bride was reasonable enough to understand that there were old men in the world who were richer than Khamar-Daban, so Mangitaika accepted the offer of Baikal and joined the large harem of the gray-haired old man. The heart of Khamar-Daban was breaking from an unfair offense, and he tore his heart away in despair and threw it to the ground. And his heart went deep into the ground, forming a large pit. Then Khamar-Daban fell down near this pit, losing his strength, and wept bitterly. The pit was filled with tears, and a lake emerged at that place, with its outlines resembling a heart.

There are other lakes on the Khamar-Daban, they are not frightening anyone by the icy temperature of water, and these lakes have a common name – “Warm Lakes”: Izumrudnoye (“Emerald”), Skazochnoye (“Fairy Tale”) and Tyoploye (“Warm”). In summer their water temperature rises up to 28 degrees Celsius. People claim that such a temperature is provided by underground sources. It is funny that Skazochnoye Lake is also called Myortvoye (“Dead”) Lake. Due to the high content of sodium carbonate, no animals live in the lake, besides, the lake water contain radon.

The mountain peaks of Khamar-Daban are not characterized by record height, but this fact does not make them less interesting for travelers. The highest point (2371 meters) is the Khan-Ula Mountain. And this name is translated correspondingly - “king-mountain”, “lord-mountain”. The next peak is the Sokhor Mountain (“motley mountain”) and, finally, the famous Chersky peak (2090 meters) which was considered the highest point of the ridge for a long time. The ascents to the Chersky peak are remarkable for their incredible mass character that is due to the availability of the route. Nevertheless, one should always remember that the mountains do not forgive carelessness and self-complacency.

All in all, of course, the natural wealth of the Khamar-Daban mountain range has not yet revealed all its secrets.

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