After crossing the Mongolian border it was still hot, but the landscape changed. It got greener again, there were trees everywhere. We were back in Siberia. Back for a bit longer this time. Back for the summer.
Our first stop was Ulan-Ude, a city of 400.000 inhabitants. It’s a three hour ride north from the border to get there. Like almost any other bigger city we see these days, Ulan-Ude too has its own Lenin statue. But this one is special. It only shows Lenin’s head – but at a gigantic scale. With a height of 7,7 meters and a weight of 42 tons it’s the world’s biggest portray sculpture.
Ulan-Ude is not only the capital of the Republic of Buryatia but also the center of Buddhism in Russia. This influence is partly reflected in the city’s architecture. But the Orthodox church is also present. As is the memorial of WWII.
Ulan-Ude is located at the Uda river. And as picturesque as it is, it also poses a problem. The city has only one bridge connecting its two sides – which can lead to massive traffic jams.
We left Ulan-Ude heading westwards for the first time in a long time. Destination: Baikal.
After about 150 kilometers we saw the great lake for the first time. The track of the Trans-Siberian Railway lies directly at the shore. The street follows the shoreline in short distance, but trees make it impossible to see the lake at most times. Near Sljudjanka the road to Irkutsk leaves the lake behind. With lots of hills and curves this part was awesome to ride. Highly recommended.
We reached Irkutsk in the afternoon and instantly liked the place. Its rich history is visible on every corner.
German visitors can spot a lot of things that seem familiar. Ulitsa Karla Marksa (Karl Marx street) features the Bierhaus, the Koeln and Hotel Marx. And ulitsa Karla Libknekhta is not far away.
Our Shinko tires had served us well. We got them in Osch and rode the Pamir Highway with them and all through Mongolia. But after about 8.500 kilometers they had to go. Not because they were totally run down, but because we had shipped TKC80’s waiting for us in Irkutsk. So the first thing we did in Irkutsk was looking for a workshop to change our tires. There’s no KTM workshop in Irkutsk, but we found a very good one. And it even gave us impression of winter in Siberia can look like. Spikes can come in handy.
After about two hours our bikes were ready to go again. We’re curious to see what the TKC80 does to the bikes.
At night it rained in Irkutsk. But not the light summer rain type, it rained quite heavily. And the streets instantly filled up like little lakes.
We left Irkutsk after two day to go to Olchon, Itkutsk’s favourite holiday location. Maybe Siberia’s. It’s a 70 kilometers long island on Lake Baikal. Everybody tells you that it’s gorgeous. And it is.
A little ferry takes you there for free.
The island only has dirt roads. We took a 40 kilometer ride till we were north of Khuzhir and camped right by the side of the lake.
This was Siberian summer at its best. The sun was shining but the wind chilled the temperature down. Our camping space was great and so were our neighbors.
Sasha, Vika, Andrey, Yulia, Yulya and Anyta adopted us right away.
Together they run a coffeeshop in Krasnojarsk, but they also know a lot about vodka.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of some unexpected visitors.
Lake Baikal is one big world record. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake and contains almost a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water. It is the world’s oldest lake. Its deepest lake. It’s not among the coldest lakes. But at 10 degrees water temperature, it does feel cold. Very cold. Still, we both managed to jump in. Of Thies there’s even proof.
A more pleasant surprise is that there’s no big tourist infrastructure on Olchon. No huge hotels, no luxury resorts. Only some traditional Siberian wooden houses.
After three days on Olchon we packed up to return to Irkutsk.
Irkutsk’s motorcycle scene largely consists of super sport bikers. They hang out at a café in 130 Kvartal, a tourist center made up of fake and rebuilt wooden house.
On our second stay in Irkutsk we decided to slightly alter the route we had planned back in Germany. Instead of going straight to Vladivostok, we’ll turn north in a town called Never. This road will take us to Yakutsk, where we get onto the famous Road of Bones. This “street” leads to Magadan, Russia’s easternmost city reachable on roads. It is mostly made of dirt and will presumably be the most challenging part of the journey.
So the Siberian summer continues, only on a slightly different route. A more demanding one. We’ll see how it goes.