Day 1: Welcome to winter time Irkutsk - “Paris of Siberia”, capital of its great Eastern part – Siberia’s Microcosm and the gateway to its Pearl - Lake Baikal! Upon arrival transfer to the downtown hotel. After check in and some time at leisure we shall, first, go on a guided sightseeing tour of Irkutsk. During the tour today we’ll visit the city’s historical center and its most atmospheric sights, including Znamenskaya Orthodox Cathedral, noted for its original iconostasis, grave of the so-called “Russian Columbus” Grigory Shelekhov and graves of the Decembrists-revolutionaries banned to Siberia after an ill-fated attempt in 1825 to overthrow the Russian tsar; we will also have opportunities to take pictures of richly carved old-style wooden houses, see the Monument to Russian Pioneers of Siberia topped by the bronze figure of Alexander-the 3rd. Overnight at the hotel. Includes: (L, D).
Day 2: Irkutsk to Listvyanka. After breakfast, we check out from the hotel for departure by coach to the Listvyanka settlement, located on Lake Baikal at the mouth of the Angara River (the lake’s only outlet). En route we stop to explore the Museum of Wooden Architecture, located half-way between Listvyanka and Irkutsk. Illustrating the lifestyles of 16th to 19th century Russians, this museum displays various aspects of village life, the interiors of a Russian fort and 15th century watchtower, information about the Buryat and Evenk people, and a Shaman yurt.
Our first glimpse of Lake Baikal occurs near Shaman Rock before we reach Listvyanka. We’ll stop here to listen to the legend of “Father Baikal and his disobedient daughter Angara” recounted by our guide before continuing on to the charming little village of Listvyanka, an old-style Siberian village famous for its trade history. In the 18th century its ferry took merchants across the lake on the journey to Mongolia, China, and the Russian Far East.
After lunch and check in at a cozy Russian hotel we will visit the Baikal Limnological Museum, which features one-of-a-kind exhibits on the flora and fauna of Lake Baikal and an aquarium where several Baikal freshwater seals live. We will also visit the old wooden church of St. Nicholas, where you can burn a candle as a blessing for your safe and successful journey. Overnight at the hotel. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 3: Listvyanka to Buguldeika. This morning we board the “Khivus”, our air cushioned amphibious vessel (ACV), to begin sightseeing on Baikal. We travel across the thick frozen lake ice to our first stop, Bolshie Koty, and visit the local biological research station of Irkutsk University. From Boshie Koty we carry on to Peschanaya (“Sandy”) Bay, often referred to as the Siberian Riviera due to its extended periods of sunshine.
Upon arrival in Peschanaya Bay we enjoy a guided walk to take in the panoramic views of the taiga forest and one of the lake’s natural wonders, the so-called “wandering trees.” The trees’ roots are exposed by winds which blow away the sand so that the trees stand high above the beach—in some cases almost 6 feet above. Their position shifts slightly each year as a result of the blowing winds and sandy soil, allowing the nickname Wandering Trees.
We will also have lunch on the ice and if weather conditions are optimal we may stop here for some ice fishing lessons. After lunch we board our Khivus to reach the final stop of the day, the village of Buguldeika, where we overnight in our cozy, rustic riverside “lodge.” Accommodations here are simple, but the fresh, home-cooked Russian meals, spectacular setting, and hot Russian banya all make it worthwhile. Overnight. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 4: Buguldeika to Olkhom Island. After breakfast we have a leisurely morning to enjoy surroundings and the opportunity to ice skate on the river if we wish. After lunch, it’s on to the Khuzhir settlement on Olkhon Island, the largest and only permanently inhabited island on the lake. En route we stop to see the famous Tsagan Zaba White Marble Cliffs and observe the petroglyphs that date back more than 2500 years with scenes from the lives of shamanistic believers. En route we wind through the “Small Sea”, part of Lake Baikal sandwiched between the mainland shore and the island’s eastern shore. Upon arrival in Khuzhir, we check in to the guesthouse, our home for the next 2 days. Overnight.Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 5: Olkhon Island. Today we set out for an excursion around the island, first driving to the northernmost point, the Cape of Khoboy. The Cape is located at the widest point of Lake Baikal and offers the best views of the Eastern and Western shores. For the local shamanist believers, the site is a sacred spot. Afterwards we board our ACVs to go back on the ice, this time in search of the famed freshwater seals of Baikal, the nerpa, the only freshwater seals in the world. With luck, we can find them in their natural habitat. How the freshwater seal came to be in Lake Baikal is still a mystery; the lake is hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Overnight back at the guesthouse. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 6: Olkhon Island. Today our explorations of Olkhon take us to a holy place of Lake Baikal — The Shaman Craig well-known for the so-called “Buddha Rock of Altar”, to which we walk through Khuzhir village. Later we will meet the local famous practicing hereditary “White Shaman”. He will perform the ritual of offerings to the deities of lake Baikal and the Island’s major spirits. After the ceremony we’ll have a discussion on the Shamanism of Siberia, its philosophy and outlook. Afterwards we enjoy a traditional Siberian banya (steam sauna) before having our farewell to Baikal dinner featuring tasty home-made entrees. Overnight. Includes: B, L, D).
Day 7: Olkhon Island to Irkutsk. This morning we say goodbye to the island and set out for back to Irkutsk with lunch en route of taste Buryat national cuisine – the famous “pozy” – or Buryat big dumplings stuffed with cut lam meat. Upon arrival in Irkutsk we check in at the hotel, have some time at leisure before enjoying our toast-filled farewell dinner. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 8: After breakfast we check out from the hotel for a transfer to the airport to take flight back home. Includes: (B).
Prices (per package on twin room sharing basis):
- 4 pax: $2820 (per person)
- 6 pax: $2210 (per person)
- 8 pax: $1900 (per person)
- 10 pax: $1740 (per person)
- Single room supplement: $160 (per person).
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