Worth a Trip: Barguzin & The Barguzin Valley

The road north from Ust-Barguzin emerges from thick forests at Barguzin, a low-rise town of wooden cottages that dates back to 1648. Walking from the bus station, you can see its handful of dilapidated historic buildings in about 20 minutes by heading along ul Krasnoarmeyskaya past the cursorily renovated old church to pl Lenina. Opposite the quaint little post office, the wooden-colonnaded Former Uezdny Bank was once the grand home of Decembrist Mikhail Kyukhelbeker. Other exiles to make a home in Barguzin were Jews from Poland and European Russia who arrived here in the 1830s and 1860s. The last signs of the Jewish community can be seen in the crumbling old cemetery (a block northeast of the church), where crooked Hebrew-inscribed graves stand to the left and Orthodox headstones, including that of Decembrist Mikhail Kyukhelbeker, to the right. Hidden in the village school and difficult to access, the small museum has some interesting Decembrist-related exhibits as well as the usual dusty rocks and mammoth bones.

Barguzin’s real interest is as a launch pad for visiting the stunningly beautiful Barguzin Valley as it opens out into wide lake-dotted grassland, gloriously edged by a vast Toblerone of mountain peaks. These are most accessibly viewed across the meandering river plain from Uro village. Similarly inspiring panoramas continue for miles towards the idyllic village of Suvo, overshadowed by rock towers of the Suvo Saxony (Suvinskaya Saksoniya), so-called for its similarity to rock formations on the Czech–Saxony border. A few kilometres beyond Suvo, the roadside Bukhe Shulun (Byk), a huge boulder resembling a bull’s hoof, is considered to have miraculous powers. Heading north you’ll pass through widely scattered, old-fashioned villages where horse carts and sleighs outnumber cars. Way up on the valley’s mountainous west side, Kurumkan (411km northeast of Ulan-Ude) has a small but photogenic peak-backed datsan (Buddhist temple). The valley tapers to a point 50km north of Kurumkan at Alla, where a tiny kurort (spa) can accommodate guests in the summer months.