Lake Baikal’s Magical Island (Olkhon, Russia)

“There’s an erergy to that island. It’s magic. You have to go to Olkhon.”

That’s all I kept hearing from Siberians when I arrived in Irkutsk. This ain’t hockey so why fight these pesky Russians?

Actually, one thing I learned from being in Siberia and the Baltic states, Ukraine – places that continue to have Russian influence, at least in language – is that a Russian is very much like an African: an over simplified term that can refer to hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups.

I guess you can say the same thing about the term Siberian, but nonetheless, I listened to my Siberian friends. So much so that I convinced my Swiss friend from the GBT project, Marc, to join me once we were done volunteering.

We took the hydrofoil boat from the northern town of Severobaikalsk to the middle of the lake home to Baikal’s largest, most mystical island, Olkhon (also the world’s third largest lake bound island).

The port for the hydrofoil is literally in the middle of nowhere: close to the south of the island where the ferry connects to the mainland. It docks onto an old navy ship.

Dropped off in the middle of nowhere

Waiting were a couple of taxis and prearranged transport vehicles. They were all full, except for one. He offered a ridiculous rate. We began negotiating. He drove off without a sound. We were stranded.

We began to walk. Marc was a bit skeptical. “We can walk it. We just lived two weeks in a swamp,” I said trying to convince him. “And we’ll try to hitch a ride along the way. It’s only one road to the main village, Khuzhir .”

The problem for walking was that Khuzhir was 30km away. The trouble with hitching was that there weren’t any cars on the road. Still we laughed and enjoyed the freedom, the emptiness, the quiet, and the truly gorgeous landscape around us.

It took about half an hour for a ferry to arrive and bring some traffic towards us. A minivan picked us up. I had the seat facing the rest of the passengers. I kept passing out, nodding off, snoring myself awake with a long grunt. I was exhausted from a night that just couldn’t end, and a morning boat ride where sleep wasn’t an option.

Marc was loving it. The other passengers were old Russians. I’m not sure if they noticed, let alone looked at me.

The Wild West of Khuzhir

We arrived in Olkhon’s main town, Khuzhir: Let off on a dirt road that Marc felt seemed like the wild west. We headed straight for the coast, straight for Shaman Rock.

Ribbons tied to a tree with a view of Shaman Rock

Another friend was meeting us there, a Siberian from Irkutsk. She tries to come once a year to Olkhon. Now that I know, I, too, will try to come back as much as possible.

And that’s the thing: now that I know. People kept telling me it’s magic, strong energy. Now I say it too, but what does that mean? Magic. Energy.

Maybe it’s a bit like a faith thing: you have to be open to take it in. Perhaps it’s a tourist thrill like how they tie up ribbons to trees and make small pyramids from stones, even though its not a Shaman practice.

It could also be like going to a magic show: you know it’s all illusions but you are awed anyway.

Or maybe Olkhon is actually a really magical place. That it does have a special energy that attracts people like the Shamans that found many holy and scared sites here. Maybe there is a universal energy invisible in our dimension but ever present, and heavily concentrated here.

Perhaps magic does exist.

Olkhon’s most scared site is Shaman Rock. Women and children are not suppose to approach it. Of course it is possible if they believe that the Shamans are all nonsense, but my Siberian friend refuses to risk it. She’s witnessed some of these Shaman sites work; for instance, the Peak of Love.

This cliff face resembles a woman’s lower half with her legs spread wide like she’s giving birth. One knee is for boys. It’s more difficult to climb despite the path being paved by trampling believers. The other knee is deserted: it’s for girls. I visited both but left no calling coins. I have no preference, I don’t discriminate. Instead I hung out where the legs met and took a nap.

When I woke I had a big drool stain down my chin to the collar of my shirt. It was wet. I don’t recall the dream, but magic indeed.

There are many other sacred sites:

Rocks that look like a lion and a crocodile.

Lion to the left, the Crock in the middle

Human faces in the rock-face on the main land.

A woman trapped in the cliff until mankind is no longer jealous.

The woman is in profile. From bottom right, go up halfway to her breasts , and then up to her face.

Rocks that accompany legends like the three brothers in Baikal’s main legend about the river Angora.

The legend adds up: Three brothers, three rocks.

(Check in for future posts to read these legends in detail. A good reason to click on follow this blog!)

Olkhon is one of the sunniest places in Russia, despite having an unpredictable micro-climate and being at the intersection of three winds (There’s another legend about those winds). Sunsets are pristine, no clouds to allow for greater, brilliant colors in the sky. Instead in sets with a portion of the color spectrum layered perfectly.

It also makes for starry, starry nights. Maybe it’s only then – after the daylight sets on Olkhon – when our galaxy is revealed to us that we can witness the true magic of existence.

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