To many people, the word Siberia suggests a desolate, rugged country, a land of ice and snow, endless steppes, forced labor camps—a point of no return. For years the region has been synonymous with loneliness. And indeed, this is truly the frontier of Russia, birthplace of the Buryats, Mongols and other wild tribes.
However, near the thriving industrial center of Irkutsk, 2,600 air miles from Moscow, lies an oasis of sorts, a vast rolling tract of land bounding the shores of Lake Baikal. Its icy waters abound with over 1,300 animal and vegetable species, including inland seals and fresh-water sponges. The rocky shores roll away to grass-covered slopes and scattered patches of woods.
Here in October, with the sun shining through the sheltering birches and pines bounding the lake shore, there is a softness to the air. The freshness of Indian summer is transmitted to soldiers and children, old men and women—all taking the air together in the warm days before Siberian winter sets in.
The banks of the Angara River, as well as the lake shore, are lined with fishermen. Their quarry is the chirus, or whitefish, like those found in our own Great Lakes region. Some of the men sit quietly, going about their fishing with solemn intent. Others stop and exchange stories, joking and laughing together. In the groves of trees a short way back from the water, small groups, more successful than their comrades, are already preparing fish chowder from their catch. Farther inland, a motorcycle sputters up the road, bearing a man and his happy son on an outing in the autumn sunlight. The harvest is in and life is bountiful. Moscow and politics seem very far away.
October sunlight filters through towering conifers as soldiers enjoy a Sunday rest on Lake Baikal
Autumn pleasures are varied—a small boy holds on happily to his father as they cycle to a day's outing; two fishermen pass by the lake shore, warmly dressed against a vagrant breeze; and a group of city children picnic gaily in the clean, fresh air of the country
Chowder time: Happy Soviet anglers prepare a hearty soup from small fish they caught in the Angara River.