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Horseback Safari to the Heart of Lake Baikal

Introduction

The best sensation that the trip offers is enjoying fabulous natural sights of Lake Baikal from horseback, as well as a chance to see the life of local people from inside: staying in a tent or log-cabin right “the next door” to their homes, at some places eating their tasty home made meal, meeting ordinary Siberians en route your horse riding trip . 
Horse riding trails in the area of middle Lake Baikal along its western shore are as diverse as the terrain. You can take a brisk canter along a beach, an amble through the steppe, a fast ride across sweeping grasslands or a meander through magnificent mountain scenery of Lake Baikal middle part.
Besides while on this tour you will be able to get in touch with ancient history of Lake Baikal – see the fantastic rock drawings of Zagan Zaba white marble cliffs, pass by the sacred Mountain of Yourd famous for unique festivals of the Buryat people.
This tour is run jointly with Baikal Horse Riding & Breeding Association. Though we recommend this tour for those who have some riding skills (low intermediate grade), however, if you are moderately fit and able to stay on horseback while riding the average of 15 km a day (with maximum of nearly 30 km on Day ,03), and , finally, if you like soft adventure travel in pioneer spirit – then this tour is for you.

Day 1
Irkutsk – Buguldeika-Zarechnoye Estate
Arrival in Irkutsk. Meeting and assistance at the airport. Transfer to the Zarechnoye Estate in Buguldeika ( 220 km away from Irkutsk, the Estate is also the center of Baikal Horse Riding & Breeding Association). The drive with 2 stops en route to do the offering to local Buryat deities will take about 3,2 hours. Upon arrival in Buguldeika village check in at the guest lodge. Then enjoy lunch before introduction to your horses and orientation lecture on the upcoming horseback trip, its special features as well as those of the horses. After that you’l be welcome with your horses chosen to the estate’s levade area for acquiring some riding skills (if you lack them or have not been riding for long time), and be given some training lessons – the major principles and techniques of horse riding.

Note: Good horseback riding involves good communication between the horse and the rider. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to rely on the bit. However, you can communicate and maintain control with your horse using only your legs and seat. Once you've mastered this technique, you'll find your ride easier, even if it involves a bit of physical abilities.

After some training there’re options for your further activities: either take a walk to the shore of Lake Baikal or go on a tour to the Marble Quarry on top of the mountain from which one can enjoy panoramic vistas of the Baikal water surface. The village of Buguldeika located in picturesque natural setting on the river and the shore of the lake offers good opportunities to take nice pictures of the wooden houses decorated with fretwork. And if you like funny outdoor activities – try “bubling” water amusement ride (see the photo above) which is an innovative water game designed by the owner of Zarechnoye Estate.
In the evening and after dinner sitting by the open-air fire be introduced to other tour goers who can be of different nationalities. Overnight at the lodge.

Day 2
Buguldeika- Kuyada Bay – Barkhany Bay
After breakfast get prepared for the start of the horse riding which today is the shortest on the entire 5-day horseback trip. Our route will go through the forest and along country side road as well as along the mountain range offering great views of Lake Baikal that will be below us. During some short portions of the trip where it can be quite steep today we’ll need to go down from horseback and walk a bit leading the horses. Upon reaching the Bay of Barkhany we’ll set up a tent camp for overnight.
Lunch and dinner shall be prepared over the camp-fire.

Day 3
Barkhany Bay – Kuzhirtai Summer spot –Krestovsky Bay
After early wake up and breakfast we take our horses to the water to drink from Baikal before start out on horseback further. The route of this day shall be longer than on previous day and go over mountain passes. Lunch en route at the Khuzhirtay summer spot. Before dinner we reach the Krestovsky bay to check in at the lodge of log cabins there, then enjoy Siberian steam-bath and finally after dinner enjoy sunset over the lake.
Overnight at the guest rooms of log cabins.

Note: Our hosts here are the Russian family of Kopylov whose ancestors have been leaving here since early 19-th century. The Kopylovs family runs a good and stable household: they raise cows, chickens and horses in a nice and charming surroundings. They’re a nice example of real Siberian farming and cattle breeding. While we stay at the Kopylovs there will be opportunities to see the way they run the house and household, try their home made meat soups and salads, be able to talk to these open-hearted local people – real Siberians and nice residents of Baikal. This family household is included into Baikal Agro-Tourism network that is being currently developed by Absolute Siberia and our local partners .

Day 4
Krestovsky Bay- Khall summer spot- Birkhin summer spot
Today we shall cover on horseback the longest distance on the tour. By lunch time we’ll reach famous Tsagaan Zaba white marble cliffs world renowned for ancient rock drawings ( over 4000 years old) discovered by Academician Okladnikov and that depict the scenes from life of the Kurakany ancestors: dancing crowned shamans, running deer and swans etc. We’ll have time to see some of them still preserved on the rocks.

After exploration of the surroundings we walk back to the halt spot. Then we’ll ride horseback further in the so-called Tazheran steppe massif often mentioned as the Mendeleev Table steppe due to existence of unique mineral associations ( over 150 minerals found in a comparatively small area). The Tazheranskaya Steppe also contains many small salt lakes and several caves one of which is over 800 m long.
Our tent camp we set up today in a beautiful bay of Birkhin. Dinner and overnight in the tent camp.

World renowned academician A.P. Okladnikov strongly impressed by ancient rock drawings of the Tsagaan Zaba white marble cliffs once he first saw them had said:” Rock Art in Tsagaan – Zaba Bay is a unique phenomenon among the others incised drawings of Siberia. Petroglyphs in Tsagaan – Zaba are genuine pearls of ancient art and that of Siberian peoples. There is nothing matching them anywhere else from the Urals to the Pacific ocean”. Unfortunately, the future of this historical evidence is endangered. First, the monks of Posolsky monastery bewitching the demon power of Tsagaan Zaba inscribed two crosses on the ancient drawings. Then a number of rock drawings were damaged by later signs (1898, 1913, 1943). And only by some chance fluke was the rock saved from destruction when in its immediate vicinity marble was mined by detonation. And later the sign “A.V. Pervushin, 1966” destroyed several valuable drawings. That A.V. Pervushin, perhaps, was unable to realize what he really had done, but there’s no excuse for him - by his own hand he added his name into the history of vulgarity and vandalism…

Day 5
Birkhin Bay – Begul Bay- the Anga river valley – Yourd Mountain – Aya Bay

This day we’ll be also passing through some of the ethnographically most famous local places. Beside just enjoying from horseback the great natural views of the Anga river Gorge we pass by the sacred Mount of Yourd highly worshipped by Burayts and Yakut people alike. The Yourd Mountain once in 4 years in the past used to be a place of the Yourd celebration. This festival gathered the shamans and people from entire lake Baikal area and its celebration culminated in so-called Yourd Round dance when all the visitors had to make up a circle around the Mountain and do the Youhor circle dance round the mountain. Now this tradition is being revived.
We’ll have lunch not far from the Yourd Mountain. After crossing the river of Anga we will find ourselves in the mixed hilly steppe of Tazheran which is compared to Mongolia. From here we proceed on horseback further to the Aya Bay to set up your  tent camp, prepare dinner over the camp fire and overnight.


Revival of the Yourd Sacral Mountain Festival

Day 6
Aya Bay – Khitkiney summer spot – “Steppe of Freedom”  Yurt Camp
The horseback portion of the trip today shall be the most pleasant one.
Lunch en route. Dinner and overnight in the felt yurts of The Steppe of Freedom Yurt Camp.
Before overnight enjoy Community Camp Fire.

Note: Here our local hosts shall be the Buryat family of Alexander Buyanov who also raise cattle – mostly sheep dozens of which one can see grazing at a far distance on the hill slopes…

Day 7
Freedom of Steppe – Wind of Journeys
This day is free for your own activities before lunch. ( options: take part in special activity – the Day of Evrazkhka celebration ( local special event in  a funny way commemorating gophers that are in abundance over here) or hike to a small salt lake that has some medicinal properties( 3 km away from the yurt camp), or take roundtrip on horseback in the neighborhood.

After lunch transfer to the MRS or Sakhyurta settlement located right opposite the Olkhon Island near the ferry. Check in at the Wind of Journeys Guest Lodge ( accommodation in twins with all modern amenities).
Relax before dinner or take part in the guest lodge activities (animators, swimming pool, billiard, disco-club, great sauna – are at your disposal here).

Day 8
Wind of Journeys – Island Olkhon-Khuzhir- Hoboy Cape –Win of Journeys

After breakfast transfer by ferry across the Olkhon Gates Strait to the Olkhon Island – the Heart of Lake Baikal – to be picked up by Rusian army 4-WD for a further full-day trip through entire Island of Olkhon.

First en route shall be Khuzhir settlement of fishemen where we visit the famous Shamanka Rock –regarded with its cave and the “Altar of Rock “ as holy of hollies by Buddhists and shamanists alike.Then via the island’s unique Sand Dunes and some shabby remains of the GULAG camp we’ drive to the Khoboy Cape– the northernmost point of the Island.This cape is , famed for a number of legends associated with it ( ”khoboy” meaning “fang” ‘cause the shape of the Cape Cliffs reminds of a female’s head and breast). Here you can be able at a distance to observe the lake’s only mammals – unique fresh water seals that sometimes show up from the water surface. Lunch will be served as picnic here.

You will return to the Wind of Journeys guest lodge right by the dinner to enjoy it and again then , when you wish, take part in the entertainment activities offered here at no cost by the hospitable staff.

Olkhon Island. Mid-way on the northern shore of Baikal is an area considered to be the most sacred. It is here, about eight miles from the north shore that we find Olkhon, named by the Buryats for the forests which cover the island. Olkhon is the biggest island on Baikal extending more than 70 km. (60 miles) in length and up to 20 km. (15 miles) in width. Its terrain is varied with sweeping prairies, steep rocks, dry valleys overgrown with berry bushes and small, shallow bays with sandy beaches and warm water. The island's steep sides cut into the aquamarine sea-lake and its capes are like characters out of ancient Siberian folk-tales guarding the island's peace. The most beautiful of these capes, Burchan, bears the name of the Buryats' primary god. The bank closest to Burchan has a cave which cuts through the rock. The entrance is on the eastern side and the exit on the western side. Native people considered the cave a sacred place, a dwelling of shamans. The cave is, however, now inscribed with Buddhist prayers, remnants of seventeenth century arrival of Tibetan Lamaist Buddhism. The new religion partly absorbed the native shamanistic traditions and partially replaced them. The first words of one prayer read, "Ou, Burchan, Tingiri!", invoking the Buryat-Lamaist's god and heaven.

Day 9
Wind of Journeys – Irkutsk
After breakfast chek out from the Wind of Journeys Holiday Center for a transfer to Irkutsk which will take around 5 hours with stop en route to have lunch in a roadside cafeteria.
Around 6 p.m. we arrive in Irkutsk , check in at your Hotel,.have then dinner, and overnight.

Day 10
Irkutsk –Listvyanka-Irkutsk
After breakfast at the hotel enjoy sightseeing tour of Irkutsk including visits to Znamenskaya Central Russian Orhodox Cathedral famous for a rich collection of icons, graves of the Decembrists’ revolutionaries who were exiled to Siberia for the ill-fated attempt to overthrow the tsar in December,1825, and grave of so-callled Russian Columbus –Gregory Shelekhov – an early Russian explorer of Alaska. Also, we will visit the city’s central bazaar – a very atmospheric sight. Then drive to Listvyanka on lake Baikal ( in the mouth of the Angara river). Near Listvyanka we also stop near the legendary Shaman Rock in the outflow of the Angara from Lake Baikal. Then a walking esxcursion to the St.Nicolas-the-Miracle-Worker Russian Orthodox and a guided visit to the Baikal Ecology Museum which has an excellent collection of exhibits of Lake Baikal flora and fauna, also we visit here the Baikal-seal aquarium. Lunch at “Proshly Vek” Water front restaurant.

Then return to irkutsk and still have some time for a pleasant walk along the historical part of the city and the Angara river embankment.
Overnight at the hotel.

Day 11
Irkutsk-Moscow
Transfer from the hotel to the airport. Or choose possible extension of the tour: The Golden Buckle of Steel Belt of Russia (click here)

Notes

1. We would prefer that this horseback tour goers have either some horse riding skills or at least be physically moderately fit.
2. Weight of personal belongings carried during horseback portion of the trip should not exceed 10 kg. The rest of the luggage shall remain at the Zarechnoye Estate lodge from Day 2 and be transported to the Steppe of Freedom yurt camp by the time you come there on Day 6. The weight of horseback rider on this trip should not exceed 100 kg.


 

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