After such a long journey by train from London and the stress of being harassed by a bunch of ignorant Russian women at the tail end of my Trans-Siberian Rail journey from Moscow to Irkutsk, I arrived on Olkhon Island to a paradise. Lake Baikal’s peace and tranquility was just the remedy I needed.
A touch of the Arabian Nights at Nikita Bencharov Homestead
I stayed at Nikita Bencharov Homestead, the only decent place to stay on the island. Otherwise there are homestays available but you wouldn’t have the luxury of an indoor toilet. Nikita’s is very comfortable; the only accommodation with tap water, piped in from Lake Baikal.
I took a room to myself and have the benefit of my own hot shower. The room comes with breakfast and dinner, though I must say the breakfast which starts at 8.00 a.m. is rather late, leaving you with hardly any time to eat and get ready for a 9.00 a.m. excursion. One other complaint is that Wi-Fi is NOT free. This is difficult for me to understand. My fellow traveller, when I wondered why the hostel would charge for this, said: “because they can.” And that says it all. Otherwise, I absolutely love this place, staffed by people who spoke English and Russian or another language.
I met Nikita and my misconception about that name was shattered. I thought Nikita was a woman’s name – thank you, Elton John’s song and the American spy character for my misinformation!
Apart from an excursion to the North end of the island, in a 4×4 UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) – the vehicles used by the Russian military, which was an exciting rocky ride on hilly dirt tracks to more views of Lake Baikal and an alfresco lunch cooked by our driver, after a long hike.
Tranquil Lake Baikal
I spent the rest of my three days enjoying the Lake which is at the back of the hostel. I wish they had built some benches along the lake for us to sit back and enjoy the beautiful view. I would’ve loved to sit there with my laptop and get some writing done.
I met a young couple, Irina Iftody and Grigory Skarchenko who are keen cyclists and are helping to develop cycle facilities in Irkutsk. They also organise cycle rides popular with enthusiasts across Russia.
We went to the village to have tea and I visited the post office again and teased the unsmiling woman by telling her I loved her, in Russian. She reciprocated, still unsmiling. You can take a horse to the water…
Khuzhir Village is sparse, with a lot of shacks and old vehicles.
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