In the summer of 2016 I was finally able to fulfill a dream of mine – a trip to Lake Baikal in Siberia, the emblem of the Republic of Buryatia, the Buddhist center of the Russian Federation.
Lake Baikal is the oldest ( >25 million years), largest (673km long x 82km wide) and deepest (1642m) freshwater lake on earth – it stores over 20% of all freshwater on our planet (23,615 cubic kilometers) – thanks to a unique biological filter system also in drinking water quality. Here lives more than 2,600 different animal species and plants, where 2/3 of which are endemic, so can only be found at Lake Baikal.
This gives an idea of why this lake is so fascinating and unique, why this must be preserved by the people and protected as immeasurable treasure.
Armed with this intent I participated as a volunteer in a two-week project of construction of ecological hiking trail in Russia, in Zabaikal’sky National Park on the peninsula Holy Nose (Svyatoy Nos – the biggest peninsula on Lake Baikal). The highest point is at the altitude of 1898m. Our camp was located directly in a bay overlooking Lake Baikal. From my tent I was only 20m from the sea!
We were 17 participants in GBT project “Trial Trail”. Volunteers came from Smolensk, St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Moscow, Angarsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and from Bremen, Stuttgart, Würzburg but also from New Zealand, Switzerland and Slovakia.
The aim of the project “Trial Trail” was and is to create a safe and ecologically built trail to the destination. The old ascent usually had no firm ground and an unrecognizable route. For this reason, the work of the previous project were maintained and created new switch-back (serpentine). At the end we were able to look back with pride on the work we did: taking care of more than 550m of last year trail and building of more than 500m of new trail.
This project and many other annual summer projects around Lake Baikal were organized by NGO Great Baikal Trail (the GBT), an inter-regional non-profit organization based in Irkutsk.
For cooking breakfast, lunch and supper for us there were every day 3 participants “on duty”, every day different. This meant not only about 1.5h up earlier than the rest of the group, but to clean before breakfast and the campfire, to start the fire, bring and boil water, tea and kasha cooking (porridge), wipe the table, bread, sausage and cheese cutting, prepare biological washing water and of course to wake everyone up. Lunch is usually stew, borscht but sometimes curry, cooked by two other German participants and garlic soup from Marek from Slovakia. There was always the possibility to take vegetarian food too.
The start and the end of the international project was respectively in Ulan-Ude (the capital of Buryatia and Buddhist center with about 350,000 inhabitants). The arrivals and departures by plane via Moscow to Ulan-Ude and back. Optionally, you can also take a train (Transsib) and bus travel – but then of course you’ll need more time.
The organization I found perfect, everything was right. Language problems were resolved by our excellent translator Olya. What to do, when, by whom, to answer all these questions we had our excellent brigadier (crew-leader) Roma from Irkutsk. Each participant has been willing to work, was helpful and determined. The beauty of it was that everyone of us was so different from each other, every participant had an open heart and at the end we all invited each other to visit in our cities. A beautiful gift, a beautiful proof of friendship I cannot imagine. So it would be for me a great pleasure to meet project participants in Würzburg, whether Roma, Olya, Rudi, Masha, Marek, Natasha, Tamara, Rosa, Claudia, Galia, Max, Nadine, Sonja, Nastja, Igor or / and to welcome Stjoscha.
I’ve learned in this unforgettable two weeks a lot about ecological hiking path construction and the uniqueness, diversity, vulnerability and the need for protection of nature itself. I think this is motivation enough for many years of voluntary work here locally. Moving I found the hospitality of our Russian friends, the warmth and patience in explaining, the openness and objectivity without any double standards and hostility – as unfortunately this country is still too often propagated and is condoned.
Who also interested in this or other projects on Lake Baikal, I recommend the following website: http://www.greatbaikaltrail.org
Würzburg, August 2016