We left the city of Irkutsk in the morning. It was a warm and sunny winter day in Siberia, one of those hitchhiking days when the Road itself is helping you in all of the possible ways. We didn’t spend much time waiting for a ride, and by noon we were already in Kultuk, an urban-type settlement located on the southwestern tip of Lake Baikal. The driver dropped us off in Kultuk, and as he left we walked to the shore.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal is the oldest and the deepest lake in the world. Baikal is located in the south of Siberia between Irkutsk Region and Buryat Republic of Russian Federation. Among locals it is often refered as a sacred lake. One of the legends related to Hambo Lama Itigelov describes an episode when some communists were drinking and fighting in a Buddhist temple near Baikal. Hambo Lama Itigelov was on the opposite shore of Baikal. Upon hearing of what’s happening in the temple, he, performing a miracle, flew over the lake, praying. A big wave appeared on the lake and it followed the lama who passed through the temple and the wave washed the communists away.
The main religious practice of Buryats before Buddhism came was Shamanism. There are many sacred places around the lake and on Olkhon Island. It is believed that the waters of Baikal have a special spiritual power, and I believe we witnessed this power. As we still had about 300 km to hitchhike to Ulan-Ude, we decided to spend some half an hour by the lake and then go back to the road. Sitting on the snow and watching the waves, we were enjoying the peace and the harmony of the moment. The Lake. The Sky. The Snow. The Mountains. It was all in one, meditation without actually meditating, and the Time had disappeared. When at one point I checked the time, I realized we were sitting there for 2 hours already. Two hours passed as one single moment. I washed my hands and my face in the waters of Baikal, then we took our backpacks and walked back to the road. It was past midnight when we arrived in Ulan-Ude.
By the way, another miracle was the fact that Baikal wasn’t frozen. It was 19th of January, and by mid January Baikal is usually frozen. Even some locals, who gave us a lift for few kilometers later, said that it’s very strange and not common for Baikal. “Perhaps, Baikal was just waiting for me to come,” I suggested.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Inspired by these words of Mark Twain, one of my favourite American writers, I once realized that if I want my dream to become reality, I need to act. All I had to do is to take that very first step out of my “safe harbour” and it would lead me towards my dream. For years, I’ve been dreaming of visiting the sacred Lake Baikal. To make this dream come true, I hitchhiked more than 5200 km alone, and then another 300 km together with my dear sister Sin from Ulan-Ude, and finally, on January 19th, 2009, I saw Baikal.