The Charm Of Kuzhir

Oct 9, 2013 by

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We squeezed into the old Soviet van and departed from Irkutsk. The journey took the better part of a day, and as we drove, we watched the landscape unfold beside us: rolling hills, farmers’ fields, twinkling rivers and lakes, strange mountainous growths along the horizon. We dodged cows along the highway. I thought this was road kill waiting to happen, but I learned that it rarely is; people know the cows wander where they like, and they know to watch for them.

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Upon arrival at Lake Baikal, I ran to the small beach and dipped my hand in the water. I had officially made contact with the oldest and deepest (and wisest, evidently) lake in the world. Later, I would swim in Lake Baikal. Twice.

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From there we took a short ferry ride, destination: Olkhon Island. I felt the dramatically cold air come off the lake and strike me in the face. That the sensation was refreshing is an understatement.

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The roads were some of the bumpiest I’d ever experienced in my life, second only to the wild and treacherous serpentine roads of Mongolia. Finally, we arrived in Kuzhir, and our driver dropped us off at our accommodation, a charming little compound for budget travellers, a place we would come to just call Olga’s by the end of our stay.

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Olga’s … There will be much more on her later…

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Some travel bloggers have strong opinions about guide books and whether or not to travel with one or even bother to read one. Some swear by them, others swear that they are detrimental to authentic travel and are an unnecessary cost. I find myself somewhere in the middle of these two camps. I like to have a guide book as a launching point, a tarmac, if you will. As my plane of thought and research takes off, I just sprinkle on a little salt, and my trip is born. To be explicit and speak in cliche, I take what guidebooks say with a grain of salt.

Guidebooks contain lots of useful and compact information, including some basic language, information on currency, tipping customs, a few good places to stay and even a little bit of history. Where guidebooks become a problem is in reading them like a bible or other holy book and becoming afraid or hesitant to do something the book either doesn’t say or advises against.

The book I had with me this summer while I was traveling through Siberia informed me that to properly appreciate Olkhon Island, one had to leave the “dusty and dung-splattered” streets of the “unlovely village” of Kuzhir and venture out somewhere on a day trip, notably to the northern tip of the island, Cape Khoboy.

The author was wrong.

After spending 4 nights on Olkhon Island, I confidently concluded that Kuzhir had been my favourite part of the island, and that in fact, I hadn’t really enjoyed my day trip to Cape Khoboy as I had thought I might because of the throngs and swarms of other tourists doing the same. I had to fight to get a good photo, wait for people to get out of the shot I wanted (and sometimes I didn’t even get it), and I had to tolerate the large, obnoxious school-age children that incessantly interrupted any moment of peace I may have found in that stark and humbling landscape.

Truly, Kuzhir had been my quiet, my therapy, my stillness. Sure the roads were dusty, and yes, there was probably some poop here and there (of the dog and cow variety, I’m sure), but Kuzhir is an adorable village, and it is completely walkable. Plus some of the kindest people I met in Russia, I met while in Kuzhir. Kuzhir is where I was able to swim in Baikal, where I watched the sunset more than once, where I met a guitar toting Thai man who sang to us, where I wandered the streets in peace, and where I spotted a wild seal (which according to my book, were supposed to be at the cape). Though much of my travels in Russia were difficult, challenging, harrowing and demoralizing, Kuzhir was one place I definitely felt happy.

So here then, are some of my favourite photos of Kuzhir, and I hope it paints a nicer picture of the place than my book does, because in my opinion, a little dust and poop is not a reason to dislike a place.

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Where do YOU stand on guidebooks? And what do you think about Kuzhir? More than just poop and dust?

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24 Comments

  1. Emy

    Colleen…
    I am SO jealous right now! I soooo want to go back to Russia and explore more than just Moscow! And I am dreaming of this lake! This place looks very very peaceful and I’m sure I’d love it there!
    Ah.
    Also as to guidebooks… I like them, for the historical/geographical content, and also for the tips definitely! but I’m not satisfied with them only, so blogs&online research make it much more complete! and obviously whatever interesting and exciting that happens unexpectedly even if not mentionned in the guide is a good surprise I’m definitely going to experience with joy!

    • Colleen

      Oh, you would LOVE Kuzhir, I know it! I hope you get to visit one day!!! I will be waiting to hear all about it. I’d even go back….
      I agree 100% with what you said about guidebooks, blogs, and random happenings. A good mix of information is really the best (and only) way to travel!

  2. Zhu

    This is a great piece of photo-documentary! I haven’t explored that part of the world at all and I’m very curious about Russia and all the former USSR republics. Can you believe that in the 1990s, in France, we still learned about USSR… makes me feel old! 😆

    • Colleen

      Well… I was raised in the 90′s and can still remember seeing the USSR on maps…

  3. I’m so glad you took this trip – you’re showing me places I’ve always wanted to see.

    • Colleen

      Let’s just say I’m quite happy to keep travelling in order to show you places.

  4. What a charming place! I LOVE that last pic!!! And btw I want that pink house haha.

    • Colleen

      Thanks!
      I can totally see you in a pink house one day. You should do it!

  5. Cows in the middle of the street? That’s mad! So much like some villages in Poland. It’s such a nice and charming place, especially when the sun comes down <3

    • Colleen

      The sunsets were such a great part of visiting Kuzhir. They never disappointed and were always very therapeutic.

  6. I’m with you: guide books are a good starting point, but they for me they just mark the beginning of my travel planning and research. They’re a good way to get a quick overview of major sights and popular destinations potentially worth visiting, but I have learned the hard way that one should definitely not take the Lonely Planet (or any other guide book) as gospel. I’ve frequently found that my tastes don’t align with the author’s, whether it’s them saying a place is fantastic, only to find it’s anything but, or for them to say somewhere isn’t worth visiting only to find I like it just fine. I find travel blogs a lot more informative (often because they have pictures… though even those can be potentially misleading) because even if they are subjective most bloggers attempt to explain why exactly they did or did not like a place and their reasons are generally ones I find easier to equate with my own likes and dislikes.

    • Colleen

      Yes, and now that you mention it, it wasn’t the first or only time that this guide book got it so SO wrong!!! I’m glad I have the sense to figure it out on my own.

  7. The Guy

    Wonderful pictures which sum up the character and architecture of the place.

    Your story of the cows reminds me of India and also a road close to where I live. Cows have right of way, well how can you reason with a cow?

    I’m with you on the guide books. Kind of half and half. They are a good starting point but then you have to go and explore and discover for yourself.

    • Colleen

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked my photos.
      Agree completely with your thoughts on guidebooks. Exploring on your own really is the best part!

  8. Mike Vogler

    I’ve never been to Russia but when you said (and showed with the picture) putting your hand in Lake Baikal I got a huge smile on my face, Colleen! I’m probably fascinated and intrigued about the mystery of Russia more than any other country. Due mostly to the U.S./Russian “relationship” between the two countries over the past 70 years or so. I absolutely loved this post and I’m glad there was no road kill. Oh and hey, even the kitty has a Russian look on it’s face! I’m kidding 🙂

    • Colleen

      No, that cat TOTALLY looks Russian. Actually.
      And I feel the way you do, completely intrigued by the history of Russia… especially given its relationships with the US (my southern neighbours!).

  9. Olga’s little compound looks amazing! I’m guessing the guidebook author must’ve just been passing through town and simply missed out on the place’s hidden charm. Or maybe the town has just improved a lot since then… 😉

    • Colleen

      Olga’s was such a treat. You could be right… maybe they missed the charm or maybe the town improved – but the author seemed quite adamant about how forgettable the place is/was. Also, much of the charm for me with Kuzhir is that it hasn’t been overly developed, that much of it still exudes old world charm and appeal from another era.
      I’m glad you stopped by to read and comment Audrey! x

  10. This place looks so adorable, quiet and just nice. I love the smaller areas where you can really breath, relax and make a confused face when some elderly person hollers something at you. The people just seem nicer, you know? I’m looking forward to your post on Olga. Love it.

    • Colleen

      Thank you so much Sally! I’m glad you appreciate a place like this. It will be a while before I go back to Russia, but when I do, I know I will definitely be going back to Kuzhir. It was such a special spot. I know you would love it too!

  11. Tara Ponting

    Looks amazing, I’ve always wanted to do the Transiberian railway myself!! Although I doubt I can get the time off work to do the whole thing 🙁

  12. What a fun place to explore!

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