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SAMPLE ECOTOUR TO LAKE BAIKAL
Your adventure to Siberia can begin in Summer 2001!


CONTENTS:
BACKGROUND:

There are many ways to travel to Lake Baikal. One way is to travel from the Russian Far East by train.

In this section, you can see one of the more popular itinenaries for ecotourists.

Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world-recently recognized as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Situated in the southern steppes of Siberia, the lake is surrounded by mountain chains that form sheer walls thousands of feet high.

Indigenous people call Lake Baikal the "Sacred Sea" in admiration of its majestic beauty and size. Blessed with ample biodiversity, the lake itself provides habitat for more than 1,500 plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. In fact, the world's only freshwater seal lives here, in the amazingly clear water of Baikal.

This sample trip will include a unique voyage to Baikal's remoter islands, where large rocks offer a natural "blind" from which these dark-eyed seals can be photographed. One goal of this ecotour is to generate added interest among local peoples for protecting these unique mammals.

This sample tour begins (and ends) with a ride upon the legendary Trans-Siberian Railroad. For two days we will be "training" it in special sleeper cars, starting out from Khabarovsk in the Far East, and then traveling for nearly 1,500 miles along the Chinese border to Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic. There, in the heart of eastern Siberia, you can spend several days amidst ethnically diverse, European/Mongolian/Tibetan cultures. In addition to tours to towns and villages, special excursions can be made to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, an outdoor museum of Siberian architecture, and a Tibetan holistic clinic.

After Ulan-Ude, you can visit two large and spectacular national parks-named Pribaikalski and Zabaikalski-both located along the shores of Baikal. You might want to visit Olkhon Island-with a microclimate similar to the steppes of Mongolia-and there we will be able to view the peaceful pastoral scenes of the Siberian outback, and also see a variety of Siberian birds that nest in the cliffs of the island.

Another excursion can be made to the spectacular Barguzin Valley, described by photographer Boyd Norton as "four Jackson Holes rolled into one." With luck and patience, you might catch a glimpse of sables, foxes, bears, and wild horses.

Summer is the best time to visit Baikal. This is when the waters are cool and clear, and the hills are colored with native wildflowers and butterflies.

Accommodations can be set up in hotels in towns, in small lodges or private homes in towns and vilages. Camping on the beach while traveling on the lake, or in tents in the Barguzin Valley is also an enjoyable alternative.

Earth Island Institute can help you to set up your own tour, along these lines, by putting you in contact with ecotourism enterprises in the Baikal region. Simply write to us at baikalwatch@earthisland.org (or baikalwatch@hotmail.com if in Russian) for more information or contacts.

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INFORMATION ON BAIKAL ECOTOURS:

1) Objectives for this land of ecotour

a) SAVING THE PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS OF RUSSIA

This kind of trip is of great benefit to Zabaikalski and Pribaikalski National Parks who charge moderate fees for visiting and studying on their park lands. Both parks seek to support the growing understanding of local residents that the lake can be of great economic value if kept in pristine condition.

Russian parks and nature reserves have asked Earth Island for help in developing and leading ecotours to Russia. The parks and reserves are experiencing serious financial problems. Most of them exist on government allocations that are only a fraction of what they were only 5 years ago.

Therefore, much of the work to protect these pristine natural areas is no longer funded, and the future of the parks is in jeopardy. Your participation in this kind of trip will help the parks survive, since all of the enterprises recommended within this site have pleaged to share their profits with the parks.

b) GIVING YOU THE CHANCE TO VIEW, PHOTOGRAPH (AND UNDERSTAND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF) SOME OF THE MOST PRISTINE REGIONS OF THE PLANET

This trek will take you to many prime scenic spots of Siberia. Your Russian hosts share the secrets on how best to photograph diverse Siberian wildlife and its habitat-while also capturing the color of local cultures on film.

2) Climate

During August, the weather is warm enough in the daytime to wear short sleeve shirts. One should count on bringing a warmish jacket, as evenings tend to be cool. Average temperatures are generally in the mid-70s, and can range from low 40s to high 80s.

3) Trip Difficulty

Anyone in general good health with a calm and flexible attitude can enjoy this kind of expedition. Altitude should not be a problem since most mountains do not exceed 5,000 feet. Participants can enjoy camping on the beaches of Baikal.

4) Visas

You will need a Russian visa to travel to Siberia - for help in searching a visa, please write us at baikalwatch@earthisland.org.

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SAMPLE ITINERARY:

  • Day 1 - Depart for eastern Russia.
  • Day 2 - Arrive Khabarovsk (a city of about half a million near the Chinese border in eastern Russia).
  • Day 3 - Embark on train for Ulan-Ude and Lake Baikal!
  • Day 4 - Full day on Trans-Siberian train.
  • Day 5 - Arrive in Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatia, and historical home to Genghis Khan. Possible stay at alternative medicine clinic.
  • Day 6 - Ulan-Ude, possibly visit the famous Tibetan Buddhist Temple (one of two to survive Soviet rule) and the outdoor Museum of Russian Architecture. Possible evening entertainment: Buryat Choir and Dance troupe, mud bath and massage at the clinic.
  • Day 7 -- Depart by bus for 5 hour ride to Ust Barguzin (headquarters of the remote Zabaikalski National Park). Overnight with private families in home stays.
  • Day 8 -- Visit sandy beaches of Baikal. Walking tour of Ust-Barguzin, a quaint Siberian town on the shores of the lake.
  • Day 9 -- Possible two-day camping trip to Barguzin Valley (often compared to the Jackson Hole/Grand Teton region in Wyoming).
  • Day 10 -- Return by bus to Ust-Barguzin.
  • Day 11 -- Boat onto Baikal (to Ushkanii Islands, where the Baikal seal is protected).
  • Day 12 -- Zabaikalski National Park: Ushkanii Islands and Svyatoi Nos (Holy Nose). Peninsula, by boat belonging to National Park (overnight on boat or in tents on shore).
  • Day 13 -- Cross Baikal by boat to Olkhon Island, the largest lake-bound island in the world.
  • Day 14 -- Boat ride along shores of Pribaikalski Park, visiting various scenic resorts.
  • Day 15 -- Arrive by boat in village of Bolshoye Goloustnoye (home stay with local families).
  • Day 16 -- Arrive in Kadilnaya, a small set of cabins with a sauna located right on the western shores of Baikal.
  • Day 17 -- Finish up Baikal boat trip. Arrive Irkutsk (overnight in American House and other home stays).
  • Day 18 -- Morning tour of Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia. Evening: Departure by train to Khabarovsk.
  • Day 19 -- Trans-Siberian train along southern shores of Baikal and through Buryatia.
  • Day 20 -- Train along the Russian/Chinese border.
  • Day 21 -- Arrive Khabarovsk.
  • Day 22 -- Depart Khabarovsk by plane.

NOTE: the train-ride from Khabarovsk to Baikal is @55 hours. Alternatively one may choose to fly into Moscow, and take the train from there to Irkutsk (@85 hours one way).

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E-mail us at baikalwatch@hotmail.com

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