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Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island
Erik linked to a piece about Russia's Lake Baikal a few months back, noting the environmental problems that challenge the region. I had to mention this fascinating place again because the feature article I read in today's Baltimore Sun (first printed in the LA Times) praised the wonders of this "Galapagos of Siberia" and sent me searching for more.
The article does not directly address environmental issues, but does describe a place rich with ecological wonders. The deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Biakal is known for nerpa seals, epischura and the unique omul fish. It appears that management of the massive watershed may lie at the heart of environmental concerns, but there are groups like Baikal Environmental Wave, Greenpeace Russia and the Tahoe-Baikal Institute working to protect the habitat, while still allowing room for growth in the region.
In the Sun article, author Neil Woodburn shares the story of his trip to the Lake Baikal region, and specifically to Olkhon Island, located almost smack in the middle of this 395-mile stretch of water. The island is a sacred spiritual center for the Buryats, a large ethnic minority in Siberia that lives in the areas surrounding the lake. Woodburn visits the main city of Khuzhir, and the holy Shaman Rock. The island has no phone service or restaurants, so tour guides work with local bed and breakfasts for food and lodging. Two tour groups based out of Irkutsk are Green Express and Baikal Explorer.