A Travellerspoint blog

Cossack's and Siberia

July 12th

overcast 26 °C

After a refreshing rest we headed off with our local guide, Natasha, (what else would you expect) to Talsty, an historic recreation of an early Cossack fort and village from the mid 17th century. Historically the Cossack's were looking for independence from the rule of the Tsars and
headed out on their own into the wilds of Siberia. It was already populated by a local indigenous people who were in many ways similar to their Mongolian neighbours.

The Cossack's made excellent use of the heavy timber and built fortresses entirely of logs, their construction techniques not requiring a single nail.
The The layout of the fort looked very official. there were places for the senior officials to administer the business of the area such as collect taxes, settle disputes, and conduct all the business of the community.
They had space for their official records, all appointed from Moscow (20 days travel away) to ensure that they were collecting all the taxes from the far flung provinces. Taxes were mostly paid in sables which were also used for trading with the merchants and traders who travelled through ,mainly from China and Mongolia, with exotic goods like spices, silks, porcelain and other luxuries. The local indigenous people were given freedom to continue their lives as before as long as they too paid their tax in sable furs.

The village was full of evidence of the life of the early settlers from the beautifully decorated Russian Orthodox chapel and the school house that was quite reminiscent of early Australian school rooms, major lessons though were based around religion rather than literacy and numeracy. The teacher lived in the school house building and was well respected by the community, who were responsible for collecting firewood, cleaning out the school etc as a service to the teacher. Apparently now respect for teachers in Russia is not as good, teachers are in fact being encouraged to seek sponsorship for their salaries, hope that doesn't spread.
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From Talsty we travelled to Lake Baikal, this amazing expanse of water about which we knew absolutely nothing, much to our shame. As the largest body of freshwater in the world it contains 80% of the freshwater in Russia and when John asked if you could walk around it he had second thoughts when told it was over 2,000 km, quite a feat, even for him.

In the winter it freezes over and it becomes a great centre for winter sport. People drive over it, skate on it, fish through ice holes and every winter there are always a few accounts of cars that have disappeared through cracks in the ice. The whole area abounds with stories just like dream-time stories to explain the the natural conditions, one being that if you wash your hands in the lake you will appear 5 years younger, if you wash your face 10 years and if you swim there you will be forever young.We tried but we're still awaiting the results.
Irkutsk has the cheapest electricity in all of Russia thanks to the massive hydro scheme built along the River Agarra, Russia certainly does big rivers.

There is a beautiful Orthodox church which was built by a business man as a promise to God after he was saved from a near fatal drowning accident on the lake. Whilst some of the Orthodox churches were destroyed during the Soviet era many were re-purposed and since the 90's have returned to their original use. We also visited the local market which was selling, among other things fish from the lake which was prepared mainly smoked or dried.
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John managed to loose his second credit card to an ATM beside Lake Baikal he now has one to last him for the rest of the trip!!!!

Having regained contact with our Airb'n'b host we were picked up by Anton from our hotel and whisked away through the streets to our accommodation, this turned out to be just around the corner from where we had been searching in the rain the previous day. It was at the back of restaurant and shops and you entered through a dubious doorway to be confronted by stairs that seemed reminiscent of the worst tenement buildings of poor US. Anton at once shouldered my heavy suitcase and bounded up the three flights of stairs made of concrete and so old that the tread in the centre of each step had worn away and no matter how precarious the stairs, you dare not touch the handrail because of the uncertainty of what the substance was that coated it.
Our apartment had seen better days but it was home! It made us appreciate all the things we take for granted

Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:01 Archived in Russia

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