Our Siberian adventure started in Irkutsk, but we only spent half a day in that city before heading to Sayan Mountains. A 3-hours drive to Arshan village wouldn't be as awesome as it was if it wasn't for the best possible guide, Tim from BaikalTop. On the way to Arshan we had a very first glimpse on the Baikal Lake, in a foggy village of Kultuk.
Thanks to Tim, we were able to enjoy the beauty of Tunka Valley even before arriving to our final destination. Wild horses and picturesque, snowy mountains, as well as colorful villages on the way to Arshan - all this had to be photographed and believe me, we were stopping the car at least every 15 minutes.
Driving through the Tunka Valley, we even had a chance to visit the Siberian Solar Radio Telescope, a rather impressive location, looking pretty much like some kind of spying installation.
Our first day in Arshan happened to be actually one of the most intense experiences during the whole trip. A hike in the canion, along the Kyngarga river, almost entirely covered with ice was full of beautiful views and frozen waterfalls. Climbing some bigger rockies added a lil' bit of adrenaline to it as well.
In the evening, tasting Buryat cuisine was something that I was really looking forward to. The best part of it was definitely sharing meal and drinks with our new friends and discovering that Russian, proverbial hospitality didn't come out of thin air. Rarely had I the opportunity to meet random people enjoying so happily and jauntily time spent together.
After 2 days in the mountains we headed back to Irkutsk to catch a marshrutka to Olkhon Island, located on icebound Lake Baikal.
Several hours drive in a typically Russian taxicab were, in itself, a major attraction. Extremely bumpy ride, cheerful atmosphere and homey pizza on a thick yeast dough, eaten in a small roadside bar - all this, together with our super cool guide, Dima from Irkutsk Free Tour project - was all you might need to enjoy your trip.
Thanks to Dima and the driver that he arranged for us, we had the opportunity to see the amazing ice caves and transparent, cracked ice, whose raw beauty left me speechless.
Blue-transparent, fragile stalactites and extending almost to the horizon, smooth sheet of flawless ice look totally surreal. The beauty of the Siberian winter, perhaps in its most spectacular form was simply breathtaking. Thanks to our driver we managed to explore the north-west side of the island, as well as Cape Khoboy - the most northern part of Olkhon Island.
We had a lunch on the lake and believe me, there's hardly a better place to try local specialties such as smoked omul (Baikal fish), Buryat pozy or my favorite tea with lemon. Especially when all this is prepared and... caught by our driver himself!
Luckily our hotel on Olkhon Island was very well located, near Khuzhir village and very close to one of the most sacred places in Asia - The Shaman Rock, so the car wasn't necessary all the time. Needless to say that at every sunrise I was there, admiring this breathtaking view and wishing for those moments to last forever.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end definitely too quickly and after 2 days on the island we were on our way to Listvyanka. At the same time, it started to snow heavily and it was going to be so for a few days. We can consider ourselves pretty lucky to be able to enjoy Baikal ice before it got completely covered with fresh snow.
Feeling cozy in the living room of Belka hostel, located pretty much in the forest, we were watching snow flakes falling gently outside the window and taking a lil' rest before the next adventure, planned by Visit Irkutsk awesome team. The surprise turned out to be a whole day train trip from Slyudyanka to Baikal port and then embarking on a hovercraft to go back to Listvyanka for a nice dinner.
The Circum-Baikal Railway was the part of the main line of Trans-Siberian Railway until the middle of the 20th century and it still feels like it's part of it. The train ride offers some of the most picturesque sights of the area around Lake Baikal, with many turns and tunnels.
Not many pictures were taken during the Circum-Baikal trip though. Due to the snow falling heavily and... some bottles of whiskey (yes!) brought by our friends, we spent some unforgettable time, eating and drinking, playing, joking around and even fraternizing with other passengers.
This is how, after all was eaten and drunk and the wanderings around Baikal region were over, a time came for us to return back home. Or rather we were forced to go back because of the Russian visa arriving to its expiration. By this time, I already knew that life would never be the same as the idea of coming back to Siberia next winter was slowly growing in my mind...