The region lies in East Siberia, in the south-eastern part of the Middle-Siberian tableland, and is adjacent to Lake Baikal.
Located in the middle of the Asian part of Russia, the Irkutskaya region stretches 1,400 km from north to south, 1,200 km from west to east, and covers 774,800 square km, which makes it larger than any Western European state. Its territory could place Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Great Britain, Portugal and the Netherlands combined.
The region is bordered by Krasnoyarsk Territory, Chita Region, the Republic of Sakha (see Yakutia), the Autonomous Republic of Tuva, and the Buryat Republic. The region comprises the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Area and 33 districts.
About 86 percent of the region is forested, and timber resources are estimated at more than 8 billion cubic meters. The climate is continental, with extreme winter and summer temperatures. The population of the Irkutsk region is 2.8 million (about 2 percent of Russia's total population), with major centres in Irkutsk (587,000) Angarsk (272,000), Bratsk (283,000), and Usolye Sibirskoye (195,000). Four other towns (Ust-Ilimsk, Cheremkovo, Ust-Kut, and Tulun) have populations between 50,000 and 100,000. The overall population density is 3.7 persons per square km, compared to 8.7 in Russia as a whole. The social and political situation of the region is considered to be among the most stable in Russia.
At the beginning of the century, much of the region's development was connected with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which crosses the southern part of the region, and the Baikal-Amur Railway branch line, which crosses the region's northern districts. The Trans-Siberian Railway remains the most important transportation network in the region and annually services more than 57 million tons of freight, mostly timber, coal, oil products, ferrous and nonferrous metals, and construction materials.
Airports in Irkutsk, Bratsk, and Ust-Ulimsk serve all classes of aircraft and offer direct international flights to Beijing, Shenyan, Nigata, Seoul, and Ulan-Bator.
Roads are used for overland freight to western Russia, as well as to China and Mongolia.
Lake Baikal is the pearl of Siberia. It's the deepest, purest and oldest lake in the world! The Baikal is considered to be about 25 million years old.
Traditional cuisine, songs in Buryat, homely atmosphere, surpassing beauty of the Baikal and pure air will make Your trip unforgettable. You will surely want to come back here again!
Lake Baikal is a unique natural formation on the Earth. There is no inquisitive man on the Planet who has not heard that in Siberia there is a wonder - Lake Baikal. But how well we are informed about this huge beautiful lake? It is known, that Lake Baikal differs with its original peculiarities from other world's freshwater lakes. It is the deepest (more than 1642 m) continental water-body on the Planet and contains 23,600 km2 of water or about 20% of the Earth's unfrozen surface freshwaters. The bottom of the lake is 1182 m bellow the level of the world ocean. The Baikal waters have an exclusive transparency (that is maximum in general for lakes) and minimum mineralization and suspended particles of various composition. An outstanding feature of Lake Baikal, consisting in both riches and originality of its fauna and flora, attracts attention of experts all around the world. 80% of 2635 known species and subspecies of hydrobionts in the lake are found nowhere else, that means they are endemic. But there are many other quantitative characteristics of the Lake which surprise with their unique parameters. For example, who knows (except of specialists, of course) that 300,000,000 omuls and about 100,000 Baikal seals inhabit the lake. It also seems to be unusual: such a great number of virus microorganisms living in the surface water layer and reaching n x 106 particles per 1 ml of water, or the number of cianobacteria which constitute up to 7 x 10s cells per 1 mg of water.
There is another one remarkable feature that distinguishes it from the other geological structures of the Globe. Thus if we add the highest altitude of the mountain ranges that border the lake (2840 m) to its maximum depth (1642 m) and to an estimated maximum sediment thickness of the Baikal basin (8500 m) we will find that the amplitude of the Earth's Crust trough under the lake (12977 m) is about 2 km. deeper than the deepest point of the ocean floor - Mariana Trench (11022 m). Such deep rift faults were found nowhere else on the Earth's continents.
"Glorious Sea, Sacred Baikal". The words of this popular folksong have been known for more than a century. There are quite a number of seas in this country: The Black Sea, the White Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea. But none of them has ever been honoured with such poetic, tender words as "glorious sea". Only this, Baikal the Father, the Siberian Lake - Sea has.
One should not just measure Baikal, for instance as "one fifth of the world's fresh water reserves". Lake Baikal is not a mere reservoir that contains H2O. First and foremost it is an ineffable miracle on a scale which amazes and defies comprehension. And though all reference-books define it as a "lake", the word "sea" comes to mind when looking at Baikal. Its dimensions cannot but impress, and the figures are not sufficient enough to convey what one really feels on its shores.
Swiftly roaring down high ridges to the lake, many streams and rivers have cut through the mountains deep, narrow, dark canyons. In the places where the streams come across hard rock ledges they make up picturesque cascades.
On the steep slopes to the height of 600-800 m above the lake level the taiga rises. Up the slope, forests are replaced by sparse growth of trees and higher up stretches out the tundra.
The water of the lake is distinguished by its extraordinary clarity and cleanness. The colour of the water depends greatly on this clarity. The deepwater area of the Lake is indigo like that of deep seas, with the decrease of clarity the water gets bluish-greenish and in August - September at the time of plankton growth it becomes greenish-grey. The fishermen usually call such waters "white" or "grey", and transparent waters they would call "golomyannye" (as transparent as golomyanka fish, the endemic fish of Baikal).
Throughout the immense time of its existence Baikal, sheltering a unique community of life, has outlived many other natural phenomena. It does not cease to surprise explorers step by step revealing its mysteries and astonishing them with new riddles.
The season ranges from June to the end of September. It is unique place of lake Baikal where the average temperature is above zero degrees Centigrade, that's why the bay has its own unique climate.
In June, when the ice has already moved, the water in the lake become the clearest, and you can see the lake floor at a depth of 40m.
In July and August the sun is usually very hot and you can get a gorgeous tan on the beach. The water remains somehow cool - 14 + Cent. - but some brave people still manage to swim!
September covers all forest with unusual colors: yellow, red, orange . The base is nearly deserted and you can enjoy Baikal in solitude before the approach of a long and severe winter.
Irkutsk is an administrative, economic and culture center of the region. In 100 years after establishment of the city the population was ten thousands. There were 20 active churches, a theatre, a hospital, a stock exchange, a drugstore, banks and several educational institutions. The houses of wealthy citizens were designed by the best Russian architects.
There are a lot of archeological, cultural and historical monuments within and beyond Irkutsk. They no doubt create a special image of the city. The most outstanding among them is Glazkovsky necropolis, which occupies the territory of a “Lokomotiv” stadium, an ”Angara” resort, the mouth of the river Kay and the whole Irkutsk’s bank.
A human being has been living here since very long. And the Japanese, for instance, acknowledge that their ancestors came from Trans Baikalia. So do the Chinese and the Mongolians. Not mentioning the main Siberian tribes: Ewenki, the Yakuts, the Buryat and the Russians. No wonder, this place was called the middle settlement of the world.
Almost 3 and a half centuries Irkutsk has been closely connected with Baikal. Lake Baikal is one of the most ancient lakes in the world. It has existed for about 25 millions of years! And still it is the deepest in the world. Its average depth is 730m, the maximum depth is 1637m, its length is 636 km and the widest part is 79,5km.Such square could be easily occupied by Denmark or the Netherlands.
Such beauty can’t fail to impress, can’t leave untouched! Tourists visit famous 22 islands of the lake with great pleasure. Especially the biggest one – Olkhon – attracts them most. Its area is 700 square km. Olkhon is a treasury of miracles. Absolutely all climate belts, exceptional flora and fauna of Lake Baikal are represented here. Here is also situated one out of nine Asian halidoms – Shaman-cliff. There are a lot different religions and concessions in the region. This speaks also for Siberian kindness.
More than 300 rivers and brooks flow into Baikal and just one – Angara - outstreams. Legendary, it escaped from its father Baikal to her lover Yenisei. Hundreds of hilly and meadows’ rivers, stream and affluent create marvelous conditions for never-to-be-forgotten fishing.
Routes to the East were through Irkutsk. Irkutsk discovered and developed knowledge about Baikal. Here is situated one of the very first icebreakers– an icebreaker “Angara”. Built in 1900, it seated 200 people and holds 10 cargo cars. Today there is a well-known on-board museum.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church
A stony church instead of a wooden one on Krestovaya Mountain was laid on the funds of I.F. Amsov, Irkutsk governor. A new church was erected during the period of May, 1747 – winter, 1760. A nothern chapel in warm colours was constructed on the funds of S. Udorovsky and Z. Schegorin merchants in 1779. At first, the stony church was named after Holy Trinity and St. Sergius, but as there had already been a Trinity church in the city, it was renamed into the church of Exaltation of the Holy Cross. There were following chapels in the church: the main was consecrated in the name of St. Life-giving Trinity by Sofrony bishop on the 4th of June in 1758 but later, on the 24th of September, 1867, it was reconsecrated in the name of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross; a northern chapel in a refractory was consecrated in the name of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 24th of September, 1758, and was reconsecrated in the name of the Assumption of the Virgin on the26th of September, 1867; a southern chapel in the refractory was consecrated in the name of the Assumption of the Virgin on the 13th of December, 1760 and was reconsecrated in the name of Life-giving Trinity on the 24th of September, 1867; a warm northern chapel to the left was consecrated in the name of Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God twice on the 25th of September, 1779 and the 12th of October, 1852; the northern chapel from the right was consecrated in the name of Savior of Vologodsk on the 16th of October, 1804 and reconsecrated in the name of St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus on the 19th of September, 1852; St. Sergius Radonezhsky chapel was erected near the chapel of the Assumption in 1766. A favourable position of the church on a highland promotes solid perception of the monument among ancient wooden buildings. The church has remained one of the main dominants in the centre of the city.
Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area (included into Irkutskaya region in 2008)
Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area is located in the southern part of Eastern Siberia in southwestern Irkutsk Region, bordering on nine of the region's districts. Its administrative center is the town of Ust-Ordynsky (pop. 13 300) 5111 km from Moscow. The time difference between Ust-Ordynsky and Moscow is +5 hours. It has total area of 22 400 km2 (0.4% of the Siberian Federal District, 0.1% of the RF). The population is 142 500 (0.1% of the RF population). Representatives of 79 different nationalities live in the area. The main nationalities are Russians(56.5% of the population), Buryats (36.3%), Tatars (3.2%), and Ukrainians (1.7%); the remaining nationalities make up 2.3% of the population.
Settlement of the territory began about 25 000 years ago. The first Proto-Buryat tribes appeared in the Neolithic and Bronze ages. From the 12th to 16th centuries, the inhabitants of this land were subjects of the Mongol khans. The territory became part of the Russian state in the mid-16th century.
In 1922, the lands of the present-day autonomous area became part of the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Region of the RSFSR. The autonomous area was formed on the basis of a Central Executive Committee (TsIK) resolution of September 26, 1937, by separating four districts from the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). Until September 16, 1958, it was called the Ust-Ordynsky Buryat-Mongol National Area. Under a Federal agreement of 1992, the Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area received the status of an independent administrative unit of the Russian Federation, while remaining a constituent part of Irkutsk Region.
The area is located in Cisbaikalia (Predbaikalye; the area west of Lake Baikal) on the southern Lena-Angara Plateau at elevations of more than 1000 m. It lies within the Irkutsk-Balagan forest steppe zone with its scenic landscapes of broad meadows and pastures alternating with coniferous forests. The surface is heavily cut by river valleys.
Forest land covers a total area equal to 0.3% of the forest lands in the Siberian Federal District. The predominant coniferous species are pine, larch, spruce, cedar, and fir.
The area has good potential for developing recreation and tourism. Three health centers (Alar, Nagalyk, and Nukutskaya Matsesta) are currently operating. The popularity of Nukutskaya Matsesta is due to its hydrosulfuric mineral spring similar to that of Matsesta in Sochi, which is used to treat a wide variety of ailments. The region also has historical and cultural monuments from several periods, the oldest being a human habitation dating from the Paleolithic.
The Buryats, an ancient, distinctive people with a rich historical culture and traditions, live in the Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area. From the earliest times, each settlement had a master craftsman renowned for his art, whether an engraver or a woodcarver. Talented painters and sculptors worked in Buddhist monasteries (datsans). Buryat craftsmen were noted for the age-old technique of inlaying silver and tin on iron. They used such techniques as casting, stamping, engraving, filigree, gilding, graining, and incrustation with precious and semiprecious stones. Knives known as khutaga, which were supposed to protect a person from every kind of evil, were an essential ornament for both men and women. Silver overlay and incrusted stones decorated the handles and sheaths. The overlay on the knives was made of thin silver plates with images of dragons, lions, bats, and a "good luck knot" depicted on them. Craftsmen also made firestarting kits (khete) consisting of a steel bar and a leather case for storing flint and tinder, so that courage, strength, and good fortune would accompany a person who carried one. The case was made of dark leather with painted silver overlay fixed on it. The third essential item of men's clothing consisted of pendants, also decorated with ornaments and symbols. For Buryat women, the ornaments they wore had to correspond to their age. Newborn girls had their ears pierced with coral earrings to protect them from evil forces. With each passing year, the girl was given a new ornament; but after she married, their number began to decrease. Coral-decorated caps and headdresses were an essential item of women's clothing. They were made of a birchbark base covered with velvet or silk. The headdresses were decorated with coral, with additions of amber and lapis lazuli; strings of coral were fastened at the temples. Women also wore various ornaments wound in their braids. Figured plates with scarlet coral in the center were tied to the ends of the braids. Russian, Chinese, and Japanese silver coins strung on a silver ring were used as hair ornaments. Girls and young women covered their index, ring, and little fingers with rings.
The Buryats had long had a single religion-shamanism. Buryat shamans passed on folk traditions and legends and the ancient art of healing with natural remedies and herbs from generation to generation. The shamans' powers were defined by the number of initiations, of which there nine in all. The ninth degree of initiation, known as zaarin, was extremely rare. Buryat shamans did not build temples, because nature was their temple. They did not cut down trees near a spring or disturb the peace and quiet of any living thing in the forest. Sacred places were set aside for shamanist celebrations and offerings; there were many of these places in the western Baikal area (Pribaikalye). Buddhism began to spread through the area in the early 18th century aided by Mongolian and Tibetan lamas. Buddhism introduced the culture of Tibet and Mongolia and brought Tibetan medicine to the people. Medical schools (manba-datsany) were built, and ancient works were recopied there and new ones that included the experience of Buryat lama doctors were compiled. Religious art developed with the arrival of Lamaism. Sculptures of Lamaist divinities were made for monasteries. A metal sculpture of White Tara, the goddess of mercy, housed in the State Museum of Eastern Art in Moscow has enormous value. After the October Revolution, the fight against shamanists and Buddhists began in the area, and Old Mongolian writing was replaced first with the Latin alphabet and then with the Russian alphabet.
The most important Buryat holiday is Sagaalgan, the festival of the White Month or New Year's according to the lunar calendar. Celebration of Sagaalgan began as a result of the influence of Buddhism and Mongolian-speaking peoples. People greet the new year early in the morning on the first day of the new year. Dairy products appear on the holiday table; their white color symbolizes happiness and prosperity. Old useless things are burned in a bonfire as a way of getting rid of all the bad things and sins of the past year. Another holiday is the Buryat national holiday of Surkharbaan (target shooting), celebrated annually on the first Sunday in June. Besides archery, the holiday program includes horse races and wrestling contests, as well as performances by folklore groups in Buryat national costumes. The best known number is the Buryat folk dance known as the ekhor, an ancient rhythmic magical dance. It is performed in the sunward direction (clockwise) with incantations and accelerating movements as if propelling the shaman and the souls of sacrificial animals to the heavens. The dance begins in the evening and lasts all night until dawn.
National art always attracts attention and inspires admiration of people who have preserved the language and culture of their ancestors. Applied art, jewelry making, and photography are quite well developed in the area.
Development of the region's rich cultural and historical heritage is very important in the Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area. Native trades, the national musical culture, songs, dances, restoration of historical and architectural sites and libraries, and holding celebrations and festivals are all included in the revival program. Research on the national culture and training of native personnel are also part of the program.
Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area is located on the Lena-Angara Plateau amidst steppes and meadows with small stands of coniferous forest. Scenic landscapes, natural splendors, and favorable climatic conditions create excellent opportunities for developing tourism and recreation.
The area places high emphasis on those interested in active tourism, and a large number of easy hiking and boating routes have been developed for them. The diversity of plant and animal life also offers unique opportunities for hunting and fishing vacations.
One of the country's major rivers, the Angara, with its tributaries the Zalary, Osa, Ida, and Kuda rivers, flows through the area; tributaries of the Lena River flow through the extreme northeastern part. A ravine-cut chain of hills located along the Kuda River attracts hang-gliders and paragliders. Both training flights and free flights take off from these hills. The hills have an average elevation of about 40 m, with isolated higher sections of elevations from 60 to 100 m. Hang-gliders have claimed several of these sections and gather every year in late July and early August for flying camps.
The Nukutskaya Matsesta and Alar health centers with their hydrosulfuric mineral springs are a source of pride for residents of Ust-Ordynsky Buryat Autonomous Area. Mineral water baths are used in the treatment of diseases.