A Circum-Baikal Express trip is a must-have journey for Baikal first-timers. But if you’d prefer to take a leisurely walk along the Circum-Baikal railway, to test your courage in the darkness of 500-meter tunnels or to take a swim in the ice-cold Baikal, you’d be better off buying a ticket to Temnaya Pad’ and hiking to Staraya Angasolka.
The wooden chapel, Roerich Museum and scenic trails
A train trip from Irkutsk to Temnaya Pad’ takes 2 hours and 40 minutes. Getting to the Lake Baikal from the station is easy. Even if you don’t have a map of the route, you can always follow the others. Each day, about a dozen tourists walk the trail, and you won’t get lost following them, especially in the summer.
After you pass along the railway to the beginning of the trail, you’ll have to descend down a long and steep trail. The rest of the road is smooth and easy. After an hour-long hike, you’ll be in Staraya Angasolka.
When you get to Angasolka, make a stop to take a look at the Roerich Museum and the old chapel of St. Nicholas. If you get tired, you can stop by the local hostel. Afterwards, you can follow the railway to see the quaint tunnels, viaducts, bridges and galleries of the Circum-Baikal Railway.
Mysterious tunnels, Ptichi Bazaar and the mystery of the Temnaya Pad’
If you stand facing the lake and then walk to the left, towards Port Baikal, you’ll get to the longest tunnels of the Circum-Baikal railway. Some of the tunnels are pitch-black with no lights visible from either ends. Local pranksters have been using this eerie darkness to their advantage for decades, jumping out of wall niches to scare random passers-by.
Legends and myths surround these tunnels. One of the stories warns people against turning around after hearing the sound of unfamiliar footsteps behind. If you do turn around, the legend says, you’ll see the local monster — a humanoid figure whose arms reach the floor. And if you ever see it, you’ll never make it out of the tunnel alive. You might actually hear some footsteps when you walk down some of the longest tunnels. But be not afraid. Those sounds are just distorted echoes of your own footsteps.
About nine kilometers from Angasolka, you’ll see the Ptichi Bazaar cliff, a place where the herring gulls nest. You can climb these rocks if you go through the tunnels. This cliff, as many of the other Baikal landmarks, is protected by the government as a monument of nature.
Don’t forget to keep track of time, as there’s only one train back to Irkutsk. If you get back to the station a bit early, descend down the trail again to understand how Temnaya Pad’ station got its name — Temnaya Pad’ translates as «The Dark Fall». If you get the timing right, you’ll get to see the incredible sight of the trail being engulfed by darkness in just about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, at the station up the trail, the sun will be as bright and cheerful as before.
- Climb down to Baikal coastline only if you see a well-trodden trail. At a first glance, some of those rocky stepstones might seem reliable, but you shouldn’t count on luck. The cliffs are treacherous, and the seemingly trustworthy rocks might crumble under your feet.
- Give your clothes a quick check-up every now and then, as Temnaya Pad’ is infested by ticks.
- Watch your steps. Venomous snakes inhabit both the woods and the coastline.
- Don’t make campfires. The undergrowth in Temnaya Pad’ is thick and dry, and even a small ember might start a fire.