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An ancient stone idol in the Tuvinian steppes, SIBERIA, RUSSIAThe main sight of the Krasnoyarsk Region is "Stolby," a unique nature reserve in the spurs of the Eastern Sayan. The rock yields formed about 80 cliff groups of up to 100 metres high. Some of them have names resembling their silhouettes: Old Man, Old Woman, War Eagle, Feathers, Fortress and others. The "Stolby" Nature Reserve is a favourite gathering place for alpinists. An interesting ship cruise down the Yenisei to the Far North, up to the city of Dudinka and the urban-style village of Dixon, starts in Krasnoyarsk.

The "capital" of Siberia is Novosibirsk, with over 1.5 million residents. It is a common starting point for foreign tourists who are taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad (toward Lake Baikal and the Far East) to the south of Siberia (the Altai area). The city sights include the grandiose opera and ballet theatre building which boasts the biggest stage in Russia, as well as the Scientific Centre of Siberia and a unique collection of Altai mummies in the Archaeology and Ethnography Institute.

The Altai Mountains are a very attractive sight featuring Teletskoye Lake, which local residents call Golden Lake. This area is very popular among tourists who like hiking, riding, skiing, floating and mountain-climbing. Complicated water routes, where one can test one's fitness and bravery, run along the Katun, Bashkaus, Chuya and Chulymshan rivers. Any alpinist would be proud to have climbed to the highest summit of the Altai area, the Belukha Mountain (4,506 metres). Skiing pathways are equipped in the Mountainous Shoria, near the city of Mezhdurechensk (in the Kemerovo Region).

The reindeer is and has always been the highest value for the native people's of the North. They harness and ride it, sew clothes and footwear from its skin, as well as cover their houses (chums) with it. Deer meat remains the basic food in the North, as it has been for hundreds of years.

Indigenous peoples of the area, namely the Buryat, Yakut, Khakas, Tuva and some other nations, live in Southern Siberia along the banks of the Yenisei. There are about 80,000 khakas and about 200,000 Tuva people in the entire world. These nations have developed a unique art of so-called "throat signing" (two voices sound when one person sings). The singer doesn't pronounce any words, but either the whole orchestra, or the patter of hoofs, or an animal’s hoarse groaning can be heard in these sounds. One must be trained in this art from early childhood, but only very few can master this most complex singing technique. It is also interesting that women do not perform in a throat-signing manner.

The Geographical centre of Asia in the Republic of Tuva, SIBERIA, RUSSIAThe republic of Buryatia is situated to the south and east of Lake Baikal. This is a centre of Buddhism in Russia, and about three dozen datsans (Buddhist temples) are located here. As all nomadic steppe peoples, the Buryats have always had a horse cult. Wranglers always know every one of their horses "by sight." The Friendly Horse is the main character of Buryat legends and myths. The healing power of Koumiss, a mild alcoholic beverage based on horse milk is highly appreciated here.

The geographical centre of Asia is situated in the neighbouring Republic of Tuva and specially marked. There are few roads here and the terrain is rough, but travelers are attracted by the fabulous nature of the area.

Within the endless taiga, there is mysterious Putorana Plateau, the highest point on the Central Siberian Plateau. In the Tungustic language, the word putorana means a "country of lakes with steeps banks." Valleys of upto 1000 metres deep cut through the plateau, forming lakes. A thousand kilometer panorama opens from the Kamen ("Stone") mountain, the plateau's highest point. Water currents go down the valleys' precipitous descents, forming chains of waterfalls. Naturally, there are no roads here, so tourists are helicoptered in from hundreds of kilometers away.

Lake Baikal, the world's biggest natural reservoir of pure fresh water, definitely deserves our special attention. Russians also call it the "sacred sea." A separate chapter in our album is dedicated to it.

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 centimetres can be seen through the clear waters of Baikal to a depth of 40 metres. The area of the lake is about 31,500 square kilometers, making it the world's eighth largest lake. Its width varies between 20 to 80 kilometres, and its length from north to south exceeds 636 kilometres. The length of Lake Baikal's coastline exceeds 2,000 kilometres and it is located almost 500 metres above sea level.

Over 1,850 types of mammal, bird, fish and insect species, as well as 850 sorts of plants, can be met in the Baikal area; many of them are not found anywhere else on the planet. The most well known Baikal inhabitants are sturgeon, grayling, whitefish, but the most tasty and sought after delicacy is the omul, a sea fish of the salmon family, prized for its unique flavour.

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 only freezes 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.

Over 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal, with the Angara being 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 stone 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 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 a small ship which makes it easier to change the route as you see fit and to enter many picturesque nooks and straits which are perfect for fishing and sun-bathing. More and more people are making the journey to see this treasure in the heart of Russia.

A Buddhist shrine near the Khaiyrakan Mountain in Tuva, SIBERIA, RUSSIAThe Olkhon Island is considered to be Lake Baikal's "energy centre." It is also called the "heart of the Baikal," may be because it is shaped much like the lake itself. Olkhon is the largest island on Lake Baikal, with a maximum length of 71 kilometres, a width of 12 kilometres, and a total area of 730 square kilometers. The island is situated near the deepest point of the lake, some 1,637 metres. From the island, the entire variety of beautiful Baikal landscapes are visible, including the steppe with bays that stay warm all summer, sandy beaches with dunes, hills and larch woods along the shore, a lush forest with fir-trees, 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.

The Round-Baikal Railway (RBR) follows Lake Baikal's wondrous southern shore. This unique engineering system became operational in 1905, and due to the complexity and cost of the railway construction, it came to be named the "golden buckle" of Russia's steel belt. The RBR once connected two parts of the Trans Siberian Railroad which was separated by Baikal (earlier, the railway cars had to be rafted across the lake). Due to the construction of the Irkutsk hydroelectric power plant in the middle of the last century, the Angara source became a reservoir which then flooded part of the RBR. After this, a longer indirect railway route was constructed from Irkutsk to the city of Slyudyanka. Today, the RBR is a monument of history and architecture: it is one-track railroad line with numerous tunnels, elegant portals and protective walls, all leading to a dead end. An old diesel goes from Slyudyanka station o the Baikal port several times a week, providing hamlets scattered along the lake shore with necessary provisions.


 
 
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