“It is said that a huge stone fell from the sky like they do now, sometimes. While it was falling it became red hot. When it hit the earth, the earth shook. There appeared a crack through which was seen a fire blazing. The people began to chant ‘Bai, gal!’ which, translated from Buryat, means ‘Fire, stop!’ Earth, stone, and water came to a boil, and in that turmoil Lake Baikal was born.”
Lake Baikal is shrouded in mystery. According to local legend, the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khaan was born on Olkhon Island, a magnificent rocky sanctuary floating in Baikal’s waters to this very day. It is the world’s oldest, the world’s deepest, and the only lake on our planet with thousands of plant and animal species completely unique to it. The lake is so big that it has a tide. The areas of Siberia near to the lake are blessed with an earlier spring than the rest of the country; the lake is so extraordinary that it literally affects the seasons. The water is so clean that you can drink it right out of the lake. And, if all our fresh water ran out, Lake Baikal could provide every person on earth with enough drinking water for 50 years.
It is no wonder that this place has held our imagination for centuries.
Legend has it that Baikal’s waters have magical powers.
If you dip your hands into the lake, you will be rewarded with 1 extra year of life.
If you dip your feet into the waters, you are to be rewarded with 2 extra years of life.
If you dunk your entire head into the lake, you will be granted 5 extra years of life.
And if you completely submerge yourself in the waters of Lake Baikal – hands, feet, head, and body – you will either extend your life by 25 years, or be killed immediately.
‘The temperature of the water is -5 degrees celsius. The captain jokes about the lack of lifevests on board, “No matter, you survive only a few minutes in there anyway.”‘
As luck would have it, we met two amazing Swedish girls here in Listvyanka: Hella and Jessica (who are responsible for the majority of the photos on this page!). They had also taken the Transsiberian here from Mongolia, and before that, Beijing. We actually saw them a few days ago at the Russian border crossing, but only stopped to chat with them once we saw them again in Listvyanka.
We had a great time exploring the area with them, and as luck would have it… Hella shared my desire to swim in the lake! After an amazing dinner at an authentic Russian restaurant, where I had my first taste of Borscht, the four of us decided we’d meet again in the morning for a dip in the lake.
I took this picture on our morning walk to the lake. Can you please just notice and appreciate the chunks of ice?
Hella and I had to psych ourselves up. It’s winter. It’s Russia. And we’re freezing just standing outside.
But hey, when else are we going to get an opportunity like this? Let’s do this thing.
Freezing would be an understatement. This was the coldest water I have ever been in. Bitter, cutting, piercing cold. Siberia in wintertime.
Mission accomplished! It only took 3 hours for my feet to thaw out. ;) And how incredible to share this experience with someone! I will literally remember this for the rest of my life.
Check out our swim at 1:54 of this video. :)
I lost my headband during the plunge, but there’s something kind of awesome about that, too. Something of mine remains in the depths of the oldest and deepest lake in the world. I sure as hell wasn’t about to dive back in to find it. ;)
The verdict? It was cold. Take-your-breath-away, give-you-a-heart-attack cold. But I could use those 25 years. ;)
And now I can truly appreciate why “Siberia” is the first synonym of “cold” on thesaurus.com. ;) http://thesaurus.com/browse/cold