Tunkinskaya Valley

Arshan (Baikal): The Guided Tour to the Sun Observatory and Extinct Volcanoes

We are very far from being the fans of organized tours, especially after some unpleasant experiences, for instance, in Abkhazia and Zanzibar. This negative experiences, however, may be contested by the positive ones, such as tours in Kamchatka or Olkhon Island in Baikal. Similarly, the guided tour to Arshan (we walked around it on our own a lot too) also left us with great impressions we are going to share with you.

Tunkinskaya Valley.

The 3-4 hour guided tour to the sun observatory and extinct volcanoes takes place in Tunkinskaya Valley which received its name from the river Tunka (translated as “dark water”). Tunkinskaya Valley is well known for its unique nature: a traveler may find very old trees (for instance, a 500-year-old larch), rocks (marble, limestone) and extinct volcanoes (Kovrizhka is considered to be the oldest one; the youngest one erupted 20000 years ago). Tunkinskaya Valley is 67% of forest, mainly conifers. The Valley lies in the embrace of the two mountain ranges: the Sayan Mountains in the north and Chamar-Daban in the south (the latter is also called Siberian jungles). From the east and west the Valley is limited with lakes Baikal and Khövsgöl. In 1991, the Valley received the status of the national park.
Tunkinskaya Valley

From the guided tour, we learned a lot about the colonization of Siberia and Tunkinskaya Valley in particular in the 17th century, mainly by Cossacks who received large plots of land and quite some money for settling here from Tsar. Little wonder that Cossacks did not welcome the Soviet power and were violently persecuted for this.
The guide told a lot about the local traditions, for instance, about the offerings to the local spirits at the special places on the road. We also stopped by one of such places.

Buryat traditions

Sun radar.

Finally, we reached the sun observatory officially named Tunkinskaya Radiophysical Observatory. This is one of the leading institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences; it was founded in 1966. This particular place was chosen because of its high level below the sea and because this is one of the few places with the highest number of sunny days yearly. The size of this territory and its equipment is indeed impressive. 265 antennas keep buzzing: this is how the observatory works.

sun observatory

Tunkinskaya Radiophysical Observatory

sun radar

The radiophysical observatory

is open for visitors unlike the neighboring Radioastronomic Observatory Badary. Yet, the major object of the latter is very visible despite the fence. Also, unlike the radiophysical observatory which was being bult for 16 years, the Badary antenna (which is actually the very-long-baseline interferometer) was being built for three years only. The antenna weighs 900 tones, it is as tall as a 12-storey building and its diameter is 32 meters. The antenna receives the signals from the objects in cosmos which may be as far as 100 million light-years. With the help of these signals, scholars decipher the weight of the object, its chemical composition, and radiation.
Radioastronomic Observatory Badary


Having seen the human creations, we went back to the natural creations – volcanoes. To visit them, we had to get stuck in the mud after the rain.

The local volcanoes turned out much more humble that those in Kamchatka or Tenerife, but the views to and around them were great.
Tunkinskaya Valley

Tunkinskaya Valley

Tunkinskaya Valley

Tunkinskaya Valley

We really recommend this guided tour (we bought it from Discoverytour and enjoyed the guidance of Irina Kolmykova).
guided tour

After the tour, guide Irina invited us to the sanatorium to see the documentary about Tunkinskaya Valley and Baikal and then we walked home through Arshan, stopping by to eat khushury, of course.


The next day we went to Irkutsk in which we discovered a very unpleasant surprise.

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