WHY VISIT SIBERIA
Siberia is a vast area, lying east of the mighty Ural Mountain range which can conjure up visions of salt mines, snow and freezing temperatures, the reality could not be further from the myth. Yes, it is cold in winter with temperatures plummeting to absurd levels, the remaining seasons transform this area into one of the most beautiful one could imagine. Late spring to early summer brings a profusion of wild flowers which literally carpet every valley and wolves inhabit the remoter regions. Autumn turns the trees to amber and the undergrowth to red which is spectacularly beautiful.
In Irkutsk, once the St Petersburg of the east, 19th century wooden houses sit beside their modern counterparts and, in the beautifully restored house of Prince Volkonsky, the Decembrist, you can sit and listen to a concert played on a grand piano which belonged to his wife, now immortalised in the book, A Princess of Siberia. Around Ulan Ude, both Buddhism and Shamanism flourish side by side and merge at the edges, while the brightly painted houses of the Old Believers are chocolate box pretty in their rural landscape.
In between these two cities lies Lake Baikal which, at over 400 miles in length, a mile deep and holding one fifth of the world’s fresh water is home to a unique ecosystem of both fauna and flora and is spiritually important to all three religions.
BEYOND THE ORDINARY
Take the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Irkutsk and then either continue east or onto Mongolia and even Beijing.