Baikalsk - Tourism beside the cellulose factory
Only very few places on Lake Baikal have acquired such high publicity internationally as the small town of Baikalsk (population 17,000). The town emerged at the same time the infamous cellulose plant was built in 1960, and to this day, the majority of its inhabitants still live off the factory - the largest employer in the region.
From a distance the smoking chimneys pinpoint this environmentally hazardous place, whereas from nearby it is the smell that gives it away! Its construction was disputed from the very beginning and during the last decade the situation has somewhat defused a little, i.e. with the acquisition of a purification system, changes being made to production methods and also water now partially purified. However, the problem is far from being solved. For a factory by West European standards, money and the will in Moscow has been lacking up to now and the decision on whether to close and manufacture furniture instead is still to be made.
In recent years tourism has also seen an enormous boom, astonishingly even in Baikalsk. The town is long well known for its wonderful sandy beaches and the unusual Siberian wooden houses located in the district of Juschni, as well as the recently built Russian Orthodox Church (even if it does look as though it was built 100 years ago). It was, however, through Wladimir Putin that Baikalsk became really well known. Putin spent his winter holiday in the ski-region of Baikalsk in March 2002 and since then, the five ski-lifts (open from 10:00 to 18:00) and the 10km slopes have become ever more popular. In total there are six different routes with varying degrees of difficulty. The longest is 2.7 km with a maximum altitude difference of 500 metres. A floodlight was built even though it meant that part of the fantastic view of Lake Baikal was lost. The best time to go skiing is during February and April, but already from November there is plenty of snow (up to 3m). Due to the very mild climate in Baikalsk, high rainfall in the summer months and temperatures rarely reaching below -10 Celsius in winter, it is seldom too cold to go skiing and even in summer the water is pleasantly warm.
Baikalsk resides directly on the Tran-Siberian railway route. Trains run from Irkutsk (approx. 3 hours) and Ulan-Ude (approx. 5 hours) several times a day. More recently, there are also more hotels and restaurants in the town.