Tag Archives: Lake Baikal

Cape Khoboy at Sunset, Lake Baikal

Places like this are the natural birthplaces of intense religious beliefs. Remote and forbidding, life can be precarious, even today. In the summers, the earliest inhabitants here must have believed themselves blessed because of the lake’s bounty. Perhaps they judged the winters here — forbidding and often deadly, even now — as the price to be paid for the lake’s largesse.

Cape Khoboy at Sunset, Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, Russia
March 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 20 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.




There’s a curious energy here and the lake tends to have a powerful effect on people. It’s known for its volatile weather — a summer day that is almost preternaturally quiet can become a windstorm with little warning. The winds at Baikal have their own names and they are not for the fainthearted.

It’s no wonder, then, that this place has been associated with shamanism for centuries. The Buryats, a subgroup of the Mongols, view Olkhon Island as the most sacred space in the lake. It’s the largest island in the lake and is surrounded by some of the purest water in one of the world’s cleanest lakes. On the western coast of the island is Shamanka, or Shaman’s Rock — it is one of the most sacred spots in Asia and is believed by some to be one of the five global poles of shamanic energy. For centuries, superstitions have surrounded the cave at Shaman’s Rock; healers practice their most important rituals there. But for tourists — and photographers — the cave’s interior remains a mystery. Only shamans are allowed inside.

I made the trip to Baikal in winter. It’s the most treacherous season on the lake, but also the most beautiful. When it freezes, Baikal doesn’t turn white. Instead it turns a deep, glassy blue, streaked with cracks and fissures like inclusions in a gemstone.

I’m no shaman, but there is a mystical kind of beauty to Baikal and Olkhon Island. Catching the last wisps of a pink sunset over the ice, I couldn’t help but feel some of the ancient wonder this place inspires.

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Isle Elenka in the Morning, Lake Baikal

One of the great privileges of my work is that it takes me around the world to far-flung locations that I might never otherwise see. Like a child seeing the world for the first time, I’m frequently wonderstruck by the places that I photograph. Whether natural or man-made, they often leave me awestruck.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
March 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/13, shutter speed 0.8 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.




So much of my time is spent in other countries that it can be easy for me to overlook the incredible beauty here at home. Russia is vast — much more than the most intrepid traveler could take in over the course of a lifetime. Most tourists only scratch the surface of Russia with excursions into Moscow and St. Petersburg. They’re beautiful cities, but I am most moved by the natural beauty of Russia, the vast countryside that stretches out beyond the cities and its forests, impenetrable and enigmatic.

Lake Baikal is one of the most evocative places in the country. Like Russia itself, it is vast and ancient, perhaps one of the oldest lakes in the world. An enormous lake formed by the shifting of tectonic plates, Baikal’s blue depths contain roughly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It’s staggering in its size and depth, and stunning in its beauty.

At any time of year, Lake Baikal is bathed in an unfathomable, mystical aura, but in the winter, the lake is more than that. With the jagged promontory of Isle Elenka looming over the lake’s icy surface, my mind wanders in a more ominous direction. This is a formidable landscape. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Beyond the rift that Isle Elenka tears into the horizon, I imagine White Walkers. There is beauty here, but it is a beauty laced through with a sliver of dread. In this place, it isn’t difficult to imagine the steely-eyed undead coming for me. I am far beyond the relative safety of Westeros and far north of the wall and I can almost hear the White Walkers in the distance.

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