ULAN-UDE, November 24. /TASS/. The remote northern coast of Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is now available to a few VIP tourists.
The authorities of east Siberia’s Buryatia are seeking ways to improve the availability of these pristine places. A number of tourism specialists told TASS how to reach this remote coast and what should be done to attract more visitors.
According to Olga Sherkhoyeva, marketing director for the Visit Buryatia tourism center, more than half of the region’s residents have never visited the northern coast of Lake Bailkal.
"Some 50% of the visitors come there from Europe. Northern Baikal is definitely one of the lake’s best locations. But due to transportation problems, only VIP tourists who are ready to pay vast sums of money can travel there," she explained.
Hotel prices on the lake’s northern coast only verify this statement.
Lake Baikal’s most expensive accommodations are located precisely in this area, near the town of Severobaikalsk. Baikal Residence has only 17 rooms and the price varies between 17,600 ($300) rubles per day in the off-season and 66,000 rubles ($1,100) during the high season. Tourists can also rent one of the hotel’s two bungalows for 134,000-491,000 rubles per day ($2,300-$8,400).
"Of course, the hotel is meant for tourists with fat wallets," its top manager Vadim Mamontov told TASS. "We receive guests from the United States, Mauritius, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Poland, Italy and Spain."
However, Baikal’s northern coast has cheaper hotels costing 2,000-5,000 rubles per day ($35-$85).
"We cannot say that the local infrastructure is totally undeveloped," Sherkhoyeva said.
According to Mamontov, holidaymakers are ready to pay for visiting locations, which have preserved the pristine nature of Baikal’s coast. The hotel offers them ATVs, motorboats and all-road vehicles for such expeditions.
"Our guests want to find themselves in a location where they get off the boat and spot fresh bear tracks. They want to see something untouched by mankind. With that in mind, they are unlikely to find that on Baikal’s southern coast," the hotel director said.
Tourists travel to Cape Kotelnikovsky to take a bath in its thermal spring, to the Yarki sand island for sunbathing and fishing, Lake Gitara, and other sites.
"These tours are very fascinating, but quite expensive and are meant for individual visitors," Sherkhoyeva said.
She added that Baikal’s thermal springs have become a popular medical tourist destination.
The residents of Buryatia, which stretches along the lake’s eastern shore, seldom travel to Baikal’s northern coast. The region’s tourism companies know almost nothing of the Baikal Residence hotel, its director said, and money is not the only problem. The other problem is accessibility.
"Buryatia needs a regional airline," Mamontov emphasized.
Flights to the town of Severobaikalsk from Irkutsk, a city some 50 kilometers from Baikal’s southern coast, is currently the fastest way to reach Baikal’s northern coast.
The railway trip from Ulan-Ude, Buryatia’s capital, to Severobaikalsk will take 40 hours, and tourists will have to change trains. That said the air route from Irkutsk is faster and cheaper.
Another way to travel to Severobaikalsk is on a 10-hour boat cruise, also from Irkutsk but it is available in the summer.
According to Mamontov, regular water transportation on Lake Baikal requires better development. The lake’s eastern coast with its Turka port, some 160 kilometers away from Buryatia’s capital, Ulan-Ude, has no communications with Severobaikalsk.
However, making Lake Baikal’s northern coast more accessible is a two-way street.
Mamontov said until recently the Baikal Residence hotel had not advertised itself, since its steady clients value its seclusion.
Sherkhoyeva agrees that this unique place should remain off limits away from mass tourism, which has already become a problem for the lake’s southern coast.
"Chinese tourists have not reached Baikal’s north so far," she noted.
Sherkhoyeva believes that Baikal’s north will remain a destination for VIP tourists for at least another 50 years.