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The Spirit of Baikal

The character and myths of the world's deepest and oldest lake

Lake Baikal is the world's biggest, oldest and deepest lake, and many are entranced by the mysteries that surround it, including richly-dressed shamans, laconic Buddhist monks and Orthodox 'Old Believers'.

The character and myths of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is 1,642 metres deep and around 25 million years old. The ancient lake is not just a natural wonder; it’s surrounded by legend. Locals believe in spirits inhabiting Lake Baikal and perform various rites on its shores.

It also attracts leading international scientists who explore the region's ecology and hope to explore the origins of the universe by detecting neutrinos beneath its surface. RTDoc explores some of the ancient beliefs of the Buryat people that have lived alongside the lake for countless generations, and joins the researchers that study Baikal using scuba equipment and ultra-light aircraft.

An ultralight aircraft
Scientists fly above Lake Baikal in an ultralight aircraft.

Is there something supernatural about the placid lake and its serene surroundings, or is this simply, as physicist Nikolay Budnev puts it, "an intricate combination of exceptional natural factors"

Buddhist monks in Buryatia
Buddhist monks called lamas are seen praying. The Baikal area is home to different faiths, including Buddhism, Christianity and Shamanism.