At 25 million years of age Lake Baikal in south-east Siberia, which is part of Russia is the world’s oldest lake. It is also the world’s deepest lake, plummeting to a depth of 1,700 metres, which is over 5,000 feet.
And if that is not enough, Lake Baikal is also one of the clearest lakes in the world, which makes it a magnificent waterway and a true natural wonder of the world.
The lake is so huge that it contains 20% of the entire world’s unfrozen fresh water, and it has 330 rivers supplying it with water. As the lake is situated in Siberia, and area known to experience severe cold, Baikal does freeze over in winter, when the winds which blow unhindered over the ice can easily cause frostbite on those not prepared for its enormous wind chill factor.
If Lake Baikal sounds like a dark, unattractive frozen wasteland it is, in fact, the very opposite. The lake and its environs is home to a surprisingly large population of wildlife, and its water teems with fish.
About 1,340 species of animals thrive around the lake, and about half of those species are native to the area. About 540 species of plants help to nourish the creatures, which includes the Baikal Seal, one of only three know species of freshwater seal to exist in the world.
The largest city near the lake is Irkutsk, which is located on the Angara River, just 70 kilometres from the lake proper. Irkutsk is located close to the border with Mongolia so is a major stop on both the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Mongolian Railways, and a stopping off point for those who wish to visit Baikal.
Boat tours offered during the warm months are one of the best ways to gain an introduction to the lake, as is hiking amongst the forests, streams, and waterfalls of Baikal’s parks. During the winter one of the best ways to see the lake is by sleigh, which hightails it directly over the ice.
Because Lake Baikal was formed in a rift valley, it is surrounded by magnificent mountains. Because the water is fresh, and even at the height of summer exceptionally cold, the water is so clear that you can see the bottom of the lake near the shore up to a depth of 40 metres.
There are a few towns scattered around the lake and it is possible to visit them by bus, train and, in summer, boat. Lake Baikal is so enormous that it has its own climate zone, and to gaze out upon its mountains, islands and waters makes for both an inspirational and mesmerising experience.