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Lake Baikal is like nowhere else on Earth.

It is of such monumental size that if every other drop of fresh water on the planet disappeared overnight, it’s thought that Lake Baikal could keep the human race going for nearly a century.

It is almost 800 miles long, 100 miles wide, and in places its waters are nearly a mile deep; an icy abyss

Baikal sits in a rift valley, created by the slow pulling apart of the tectonic plates surrounding it. It is ringed by mountains, and fed by ice-cold glacial water that flows in from scores of rivers.

Baikal is deep. But because the water that flows into it is so clean, and it is home to so many filter feeding sponges, it is almost impossibly clear. Drop a coin into the water – as I did on a boat trip out from the shore – and you can see the coin get bigger and bigger thanks to water refraction. It takes tens of metres before it is swallowed by the icy gloom.

I made it to Baikal in September, still in the heat of summer. There are no cities or large towns on the lake – the biggest settlement is the village of Listvyanka, the kind of place where cows will happily amble up and down the road. In 2004 there was just one place to while away the evenings – a bar-cum-restaurant called the Shury-Mury. Vodka and beer flowed well into the night. Fish, as you can imagine, was the house specialty.

This pic was taken on my old LOMO LC-A loaded with Kodak Elite Chrome 100 and cross-processed, as a summer storm rolled in off the mountains. In Siberia, even as the golden summer shines brightly, there is always a hint of what lies a few weeks ahead. The waters of Baikal don’t lie; they are bone-chillingly cold. Even in the middle of August, this is not a place you would want to tread water in for too long.

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Stephen Dowling
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