By special train from Irkutsk to Port Baikal

About a more nerve-racking 2day-trip from Irkutsk to the Lake Baikal – from Franziska Mischek

The offer sounded tempting. Driving by special train all along the Baikal on the so called "gold buckle of the russian steal belt": from Irkutsk to Sludyanka on the Southern shore of Lake Baikal to Port Baikal. To be on the safe side, we arrived at the station half an hour before the departure. Nevertheless, the cashier only laughed when we asked for tickets. They were sold out for two weeks!

But in Russia sometimes you can achieve a lot with an innocent smile and a foreign accent, if nessecary also with a small extra charge, so we just went to the platform and poured out our troubles to the chief guard, that we would already have to leave in two days and really would like to take part in the tour. Finally, for us and even for some other spontaneous voyagers seats were found. When we sat down we were very happy that we finally succeeded to find a place and soon would discover the Baikal. The courier greeted friendly and the journey started. In Sludyanka was a half-hour stop and everybody got out to buy Omul (Baikalfish), which was offered at the platform. After that the train filled because the special train worked on the way Sludyanka-Port Baikal also as the Sibirian suburb train called elektrichka. The whole train smelled of fish already at the beginning of that warm summer day.

The modern motor coach was extremely fast compared to other russian trains until Sludyanka, but on the now following line the chief guard seemed to prefer to go on at a snail’s pace. But the view on Lake Baikal still impressed us so much, that we didn't mind neither the speed nor the too short stops for the photographing.

We were very surprised when the timetable for the day was announced because the courier explained us that the trip would last until 8 pm. We had just ignored that information in Irkutsk. We had thought to arrive as fast as possible and to be able to go for a walk then. 84 kilometres in almost 10 hours? We found out the secret how that time should pass only very slowly and step by step that day.

During the stops every 20 minutes from Sludyanka on, everybody first got out of the train, then posed 10-15 minutes in front of the lake, of a rock or the end of a tunnel and rushed back into the train to go on eating, listening to the courier or playing cards. The courier kept us informed with his waffle during the whole journey: "There you can see the “Tourbasa” Baikaltourist, where two-room-bungalows and a cultivated dining-hall are at your disposal for your holiday. On the right you see the Tourbasa, where Vladimir Putin held a meeting with important representatives of the CIS last year. Look how beautiful everything looks, they even built a new path, the tennis courts are new, too. But, of course, those places are only accessible to VIPs and are quite expensive..."

At the fifths stop we were already a bit in a bad mood, unfortunately we had forgotten to take some food with us in the morning. As everywhere in Russia we were prepared to find old women selling tasty snacks at the station. Only not along the way to Lake Baikal! And with an empty stomach that trip was even harder to bear.

The background noice encreased, in addition to the courier we could hear also a CD with the latest hits of the Russian charts and listen parallel to the babbling of an old Sovjet comedy on television.
Lunchbreak! Two hours of silence! We searched for a nice place at the lake to eat the omul, which was everything to eat we had with us that day. But the omul was eaten fast and the stones at the lake were everything but comfortable, so we started to explore the near environment. But wherever we went, everywhere we met other tourists searching for an undisturbed place to rest. And the mosquitos ignored our mosquitospray and attacked us, so that we spent all the rest of our lunchbreak trying to escape these beasts.

When the train finally went on, we recognized that now half the way lay behind us. More and more people got out to walk the rest of the way. We were not prepared for such an adventure and became angry that we were captured in the train.

Meanwhile, the courier organized rooms for the night. After I had asked about the rooms and had told him willingly where we came from and where we wanted to travel to, the meanwhile very chattering courier started to talk by microphone about the foreign guests on board. We became very small in our seats and wished to be out of that train once more.

The culmination of the journey was the courier’s enthusiastic exclamation, about an hour before the end of the torture, that he would now present us something completely new. Recently even karaoke on board of the special train was possible! In order to demonstrate that and to invite us to the next trips, where it would be possible to sing during the whole journey, he immediately started to sing the best Russian folk-songs.

Port Baikal! Out of here! We politely refused the courier’s offer to come with him into his sauna on his datcha and, after finding accommodation for this night, we rushed into a food shop. We had lost all liking for walking at the Lake during that day in the train, we only managed to climb on a small hill above the Angara and to fall in our beds. The next morning we had to wake up early, because the ferry to Listvyanka on the other side of the Angara did not depart very often. There was not much more to do than to walk one time up and down the village and to take the marshrutka-shared-taxi to Talcy. There the really remarkable ethnographic open-air museum saved our excursion. Accompanied with beautiful sunshine we explored the village presenting the culture and the old methods of construction in Eastern Siberia.


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30 Jan 2006

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