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Baikal
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  1. Lake Baikal is the pearl of Eastern Siberia. It is the world??™s deepest and oldest lake ??” an estimated 25 million years old. Approximately 25 % of all of the fresh water on Earth is contained in Lake Baikal. A white disk with a diameter of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) can be seen through the clear waters of Baikal at a depth of 40 meters (130 feet).

    There are over 1850 species of animals, fish, and insects and 850 varieties of plant life here, many of which are not found anywhere else on the planet. The best known Baikal inhabitants are sturgeon, grayling, and whitefish, but the most tasty and sought-after delicacy is the omul, a sea fish of the salmon family, prized for its unique flavor.

    There are more sunny days per year on Lake Baikal than in any of the resorts in the south of Russia. In autumn, one can expect severe winds, but the lake freezes only as late as in the second half of January, and the ice fully melts in May. Like the water, the ice of Lake Baikal is amazingly clear, forming vast fields through which one can see the more shallow parts of the lake and its underwater inhabitants.

    The Olkhon Island is considered to be Lake Baikal??™s ???energy centre.??? It is also called the ???heart of Baikal,??? maybe, because it is shaped much like the lake itself. Olkhon is the largest island on Lake Baikal, with a maximum length of 71 kilometers (44 miles), a width of 12 kilometers (8 miles), and a total area of 730 square kilometers (282 square miles). The island is situated near the deepest point of the lake, some 1,637 meters (over 1 mile). On the island, one can enjoy an incredible variety of beautiful Baikal landscapes, including the steppe with bays that stay warm all summer, sandy beaches with dunes, hills and larch woods along the shore, a lush forest of firs, severe marble-like crags covered with various mosses and lichens. The local people believe that Genghis Khan himself is buried in the marble rock cave of Burkhan.

    Over 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal, but the Angara River is the only one that takes its source from the lake. At the place of Angara??™s source, near the village of Listvyanka in the Irkutsk Region, a tip of a large rock can be seen rising out of the water. Legend has it that Father Baikal threw this piece of rock in anger after his beautiful daughter Angara disobeyed him and parted the surrounding hills to follow her bridegroom Yenisei.

    Baikal is a real magnet for tourists. Summer is the peak season here because it is quite warm, and by the end of July and beginning of August the coastal waters are perfect for swimming. The best way to travel on Lake Baikal is on small motor boats: it is easier to change the route as you see fit and to enter many picturesque nooks and straits that are perfect for fishing and sun-bathing. More and more people are making the journey to see this treasure in the heart of Russia.

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Cape Shamanka. Olkhon Island
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Because of the enormous volume of water and frequent storms, Baikal does not freeze over until January
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By the middle of the summer, the lake water gets warm enough to swim in
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The famous omul

BURYATIA
  1. To the east and to the south of Baikal lies the land of Buryatia. This region of the steppes and the taiga is always bathed in sunlight and is the place of many ancient legends. Buryatia offers some of the best conditions for active tourism and recreation. You can take the fascinating cruises around Baikal, raft down the many mountain rivers, watch and study birds, ski, scuba dive, fish, or climb up to mountain peaks. Some of the most exciting adventure travel opportunities include trips to bathe in the warm mineral waters of the Shumak Springs, ascents to the highest peak of the Eastern Sayans, the Munku-Sardyk (???Eternally-white Old Man???) Mountain (3,491 m or 11,453 ft), free-riding down the Barguzin Range, or participating in equestrian or cycling tours around Baikal.

    As planned, the eastern shores of Baikal will be home to a ski resort, an equestrian sports complex, golf courses, congress and entertainment centers, spa, and a center for Tibetan medicine.

    One of the very interesting travel attractions is the Great Tea Road, a trade route along which in 18th and 19th centuries caravans from China made their way into Russia and further on to Europe. It was then that tea became Russia??™s most popular beverage. In volume of the traded goods the Great Tea Road was second only to the Great Silk Road.

    Buryatia is often called the health center of Siberia. From the earliest times Buryats called the local healing and rejuvenating mineral water springs arshans ??” ???the healing waters??™ or ???the drink of the gods??™. The local population treats these arshans with special reverence. Those places where mineral water comes to the surface are considered holy. Special altars, obo, are built near the springs and regular prayers take place there. Buryatia is home to over 300 of the springs and also to several mineral water health resorts ??” the most famous of them is called Arshan.

    Buryatia is the center of Buddhism in Russia. The region is home to nearly 30 Buddhist university-monasteries known as datsans, as well as to a library of rare scriptures, a center for Tibetan medicine, and a unique collection of Buddhist Art at the History Museum in Ulan-Ude the administrative, cultural, and economic center of Buryatia. The Egituysky datsan, built in 1826, houses a unique sculpture of the standing Buddha Shakyamuni made of sandalwood and decorated with precious stones. It is considered to be one of only two statues of the Buddha that were made during his lifetime, the other one is now at the British Museum. The newly built Rinpoche-Bagsha center is the place where the basic canons of Buddhism are taught not only to the monks but also to the laymen. The center complex includes a 5-meter (16.5-foot) tall gilded statue of the Buddha.

    The Ivolginsky datsan, the main one in Buryatia, houses a sarcophagus with the ???precious incorruptible body??? of the Hambo-lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. This Buddhist relic has become a worldwide sensation. On September 10th, 2002, in Khukhe-Zurhen, a place where the lamas are usually buried, the Buddhist priests exhumed the sarcophagus with the body. Exhumation was performed at the request made by the hambo-lama himself before his death. The sensation was caused by the fact that 75 years after the burial, the body of the famous lama was preserved in a nearly perfect state. As medical tests have shown, the protein structure of the cells has not been damaged and the nuclei are completely intact. Moreover, a pleasant aroma emanated from the freshly exhumed body! The current spiritual leader of the Buddhists, Dalai-lama XIV, commented on the miracle: ?????¦ Many Buddhist monks come to know death when they die during a meditation and thus free themselves of all earthly existence. They can meditate for decades and their bodies do not decompose??¦???

    The so-called Old Believers, people who opposed the reform of the Orthodox Church in the 17th century, moved to Buryatia two and a half centuries ago. Whole families of these people were moved out of the European part of Russia, thus they are also known as the ???Family people???. To this day the Old Believers manage to preserve their culture: ancient icons and manuscripts, harmonic choral singing, bright clothing, intricately decorated houses, and the original rites. The unique culture of the ???Family people??? was included in the UNESCO list of the Intangible World Heritage. Travel programs ???Visiting the Family People??? are very popular among the tourists.
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Tanka, the Buddhist icon
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Bukhe-barildan, Buryat national wrestling, always attracts a lot of spectators
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The festival of Surkharban (translated as ???shooting arrows at a target???) used to be held to celebrate the ancestor spirits that ruled over the holy places. The ancestors were remembered and revered as the founders of the many clans. The event was also a military show for selection of the best warriors
baikal_8.jpgInside one of the Buddhist temples ??“ datsan
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Travel programs ???Visiting the Family People (Old Believers)" are very popular among the tourists
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