Ask Baikal

Hi there! My name is Maxim Milyutin. I am based in Irkutsk, Russia's Siberia. Traveller, organiser of local travel talks, and owner of Irkutsk hostel. Travel for me is not necessary movement to some place far away from home, it's a state of soul. That's why I like to travel around my home region and and abroad as well. I'm happy to share my knowledge about Baikal with everybody! Feel free to ask me about Lake Baikal via the contact form Tatiana Baksheeva, our previous blog runner, remains with us as a contributor.

Love story: Olkhon Island and Nikita & Natalia Bencharovs

Nikita Bencharov

Dear Readers, I would love to show you not only beautiful views of Lake Baikal, tell you about how to get here ahd there. I also would love to introduce you beautiful people from the area of Lake Baikal. These people live their lives here, love their families, love what they do and love Baikal. Today I would like to introduce Nikita and Natalia Bencharovs.

Nikita Bencharov is the first person who started to work with tourists in Khuzhir, the largest village on Olkhon Island, a pioneer of tourist industry. He says that Olkhon is the point where a person can get rid of problems.

When in 1989 he moved to Khuzhir, nobody thought that it’s a good opportunity. His tourist base now is well-known among foreigners: Nikita’s place has a web-site. Nikita was born in 1960, in Usolie-Sibirskoye, a small town of Irkutsk region. H? was a professional sportsman; in 1986 he won in All-Russia championship in table tennis. Nowadays he doesn’t’ leave his passion for the table tennis:  he build a gym on the territory of tourist base and plays tennis there. Natalia, his wife, moved to Olkhon 15 years ago from Moscow. She worked at the Mars CIS Company as a financial manager. Nikita and Natasha speak English very well, Nikita also speaks some Japanese.

Bencharovs family: Nikita, Natalia and sons

Their tourist base looks like Siberian wooden estate with log cabins for guests, brick stoves, Russian banya and large dining room. They host foreign as well as Russian tourists (the base’s capacity is more than 40 people at once), organize different excursions at Olkhon Island. They do not sell alcohol and do not welcome drinking at the base. They also invite foreign volunteers, who teach languages at local school, provide them with free accommodation and food. Nikita organized an info-center in Khuzhir, where visitors are able to learn a lot about Olkhon Island, order excursions, rent a bicycle or horse.

Wooden guest house at Nikita's homestead

Thank you, Nikita and Natalia, for answering my questions!

As far as I know, your tourist base was the first one at Olkhon Island. How did you arrive to Olkhon? Why Olkhon? And how did an idea to build a tourist base came to your mind?

I came to Olkhon Island accidentally. One of my friends wanted to move to Olkhon and invited me. As a result, my friend still lives in Irkutsk, but I stayed here. Being a very sociable person, I started to invite friends to come to the island and visit me. When I moved to the island, I was the only person who spoke English and Japanese. That’s why rare foreign tourists, who came to Olkhon, got to my house. However, my house wasn’t really adjusted to host tourists. But once after visiting me, one French man said that he would come next year again with his family…I asked for a land in the local municipality, and started to build my base. Gradually I built new houses, banya, dining room…

What values do you apply in organizing your base and services?

The most important thing for us is to build smooth relationships in our team, their friendship with each other. We also maintain friendly relations with our guests and locals. A Guest is not just a person who paid money and left. After their visit, we continue stay in touch with a lot of our guests, visit them in their countries. One of ladies who visited us once, became our best friend, she supports a variety of humanitarian projects as at Olkhon Island so in Irkutsk.

Would you tell please about the most meaningful events that happened at your tourist base?

In 1997 we hosted Jacques-Yves Cousteau team in winter time, they shot a documentary about Lake Baikal. We have helped (amongst others) the following on several occasions with their projects: ZDF television company (Germany), shootings for reality-show “Whisper of the stars”, Channel 1 (Germany), with their set of documentary films about Baikal, by Klaus Bernaz awarded in Germany as “The best documentary of the year”. We provided accommodation for movies and magazine teams: panoramic shooting for movies Silk (2007, Director – François Girard) and Serko (2006, Director – Joël Farges), photo sessions for ELLE magazine. In March 2010 Jim Denevan made his art work at Lake Baikal ice. We also hosted different professional symposiums for physicists, psychologists, doctors, sociologists and others.

We have a lot of friends, different people… There are artists, sportsmen, journalists, writers, piano players, priests among them. They are all unique people and it’s such a gift and pleasure that they travel so far away and we can host them.

Does your tourist base operate in winter time?

Yes, we are open the whole year round.

Welcome to Olkhon Island in winter and you will have a chance to see a beautiful winter sunset too!

Welcome to Olkhon Island in winter and you will have a chance to see a beautiful winter sunset too!

Olkhon Island is very sacred place for local Buryat people. From the variety of local legends what is your favorite one?

My favorite one is well-known Buryat legend about Khoboy Cape (locals also call this cape the Maiden Rock). The legend says that there was young Buryat family at the island. They lived very good, not poor, there was nothing to complain about. Husband worked very hard and had light and kind temper, he always helped neighbors. But his wife was greedy and envious. She kept on nagging at her husband very often: “Why you help our neighbors, it’s not enough for us…” Husband just shrugged his shoulders… Once local Spirits decided to reward this man and presented him with a wonderful palace of unearthly beauty. His wife saw the palace and envied husband that much she couldn’t sleep well at night. She started to request the same palace from local Spirits. But Spirits became angry with this greedy woman and turned her into the stone. And said: “Till envy and evil will be on the Earth, you will be a rock!”

Knoboy Cape (Maiden Rock) (www.magicbaikal.ru)

Please, recommend the best one-day route at Olkhon Island…one-day route from Nikita Bencharov

I love walking up to the Field Camp at sunset. There is a fantastic panoramic view of Khuzhir village and the Small Sea with islands and ships that are returning back to harbour. An amazing play of lights and shadows one can observe in July after the rain, when the sun appears through the clouds.  At different times a day, in different weather the scenery changes dramatically, so you will never be tired of observing a beauty of Nature. Also sunsets and sunrises, observed from water are very beautiful, while observing you become part of the beautiful picture and red gold fills you.

Natalia, you moved to Olkhon Island from megalopolis…how it changed your life?

I think of this very often. It seems like I found myself here. Only here, in Nature, I understood how much joy can lose a person who lives in a big city. It’s a joy of being with children, with animals, delicious and healthy food, that you can find by yourself or find in a village, good relationships with neighbors and friends, a chance to observe the Nature life, a chance to be with Nature….

What dishes are the most popular among your guests?

Of course, Russian style pies are the top: with fish or cowberries, with cabbage and eggs. And Buryat cuisine dishes – pozy (Buryat meat dumplings made on steam called buuza in Buryat or pozy in Russian) and Bukhler (lamb boiled in broth) – are also very popular.

Some pictures were sent to me by Natalia Bencharova, some taken from Nikita’s homestead web-site – www.olkhon.info

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