Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

We arrived Irkutsk early in the morning and our local guide was already waiting for us at the station. Like every other city in Russia, you have to complete a registration when you arrive to confirm that your itinerary fits the one on your visa invitation. Once we had that done we jumped on a bus that would take us to Listvyanka, a small village right at Lake Baikal where we would spend the next three days.

Listvyanka was a really small village, being the total oposite of or previous city Moscow. The contrast being the much cheaper prices, more laid back life and the stunning nature opposed to the hectic city life of the capital.

As we arrived really early on the first day, we had enough time to walk around the lake and get familiar with the town in the morning and around noon we were already off to go dogsledding. Without getting much explanation of how everything worked, we were told to stand at the back controling the sleigh, while the guide jumped into the sled shouting “ruski huski” meaning “go dog”! Some of hills were quite steep and some of the curves sharp, so it was really important to hold on as hard as you could and push the handle to the side that you wanted the sled to go. It was a must do winter experience, that comes highly reccomended if you ever have the chance.

In the evening before dinner we also got to try a traditional Russian “Banja”, which was quite a cultural experience. A Banja is a Russian sauna, consisting of several phases, repeated as many times as you can handle:
– First step was heating up the sauna to around 80 degrees, and then staying in for around 7 minutes.
– Step two was going outside in the cold for one minute, running or rolling around in the snow.
– Third phase was sitting in a average inside/room tempered room, drinking herbal tea for around five minutes while the snow was turning to water.
– The fourth and last step was standing up, letting a grow up Russian male hit you with branches, which supposedly did wonders for the blood circulation

Doing it with someone we had never met before was a bit strange, and it all felt like a test where we got to see who was the most manly, depending on how much snow you could gather on your body the minute you were outside and how much heat whipping you could take in the sauna. A great chance for us Norwegians to score some credential points. Even how strange it was, it also felt great afterwards, feeling like our bodies had turned into jelly.

The second day was all about skiing in the day and afterskiing in the evening. Something I had never thought of before getting here, and at a price lower than I had imagined possible (500rubles/75kr for a daypass). The slopes were small, and the temperature was cold (around 25 celcius degrees below), but there was a great funpark and the view from the top was just spectacular, reaching past the lake and over to the mountains on the other side.

The last day was just spent walking on the icy lake, some taking photos, others riding snow scooters and hovercrafts, before we catched an afternoon bus to Irkutsk and the 11 o’clock train to Ulan Bataar. The city of Irkutsk was nothing special, feeling a bit more and hectic, dirty and polluted compared to the calm and quiet Lake Baikal on the country side. The departure time was perfect for some reading on the bed before once again going to sleep on the Trans Mongolian Railway.





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