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Since our other pages here are full of paeans to Mongolia, into which we drive on Day 7, let’s concentrate here on the Siberian segment of this lovely journey, which centers around glorious Lake Baikal. “A primordial deep lake of diamantine clarity,” as Peter Matthiessen wrote in Baikal: Sacred Lake of Siberia, it is, among other things, the world’s oldest lake, the deepest (5750 feet at its lowest, with an additional four miles of sediment above the bedrock; the great Baikal Rift, by far the deepest depression on the planet, is seven times as deep as the Grand Canyon), and the most voluminous (holding an astounding 17 percent of the world’s fresh water; if all the world’s rivers were to drain into an empty Baikal, it would take a year to ﬁll). In short, it’s unquestionably the most interesting (100,000 freshwater seals, called nerpa, inhabit its northern waters, in the middle of a vast continent!) and surely the most hugely beautiful lake in the solar system (and one still quite pristine, despite media rumors; the Russians are united in protest against any sullying of their national gem).
After a good look at Irkutsk, we make the short drive to Listvyanka, a cottagey little town set on the southern end of the lake. We boat across Baikal and drive to the city of Ulan Ude, a redoubt of Mongolian culture. Our exploration of Buryatia, as this area is called, includes a visit to a village inhabited by Old Believers, Amish-like folk who split from the Russian Orthodox church 350 years ago. And then it’s on to Mongolia, with a rousing stop in the booming capital and an essential circuit through the Gobi.
Itinerary at a Glance
- Day 1: fly to Irkutsk
- Days 2 & 3: Irkutsk and Listvyanka
- Day 4: cross Lake Baikal, drive to Ulan Ude
- Day 5: Ulan Ude and Buryatia
- Day 6: visit Old Believer village
- Day 7: drive to Khyakta, cross into Mongolia
- Day 8: drive to Ulaanbaatar
- Day 9: Ulaanbaatar sightseeing
- Day 10: fly to south Gobi, explore Yol Valley, visit Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs)
- Day 11: drive to Khongoriin Els ("singing" sand dunes)
- Day 12: visit nomad family, camel riding in the dunes
- Day 13: fly back to Ulaanbaatar
- Day 14: depart Ulaanbaatar.