Friday, September 4, 2009

A Holy Spring on Lake Baikal

Powers of the water, we come to live in harmony with you. We bless your shores, we bless your depths. Please bless us with your bounty. Please help us to live, so that we may live with you.
-Ancient Buryat Song, quoted from Siberian Dream by Irina Pantaeva

In the morning, the mountains are a particularly luminous blue. The sky reflects from the depths of the lake through the crystal clear water onto the mountains. Later in the day, you can make out the outlines of the mountains, which seem to be offering the lake back to the sky like curved, furrowed palms.

Looking northwards along the coast, the mountains are pale and ashen and deeply furrowed, like immense piles of finely ground white pepper. A short way up the forested mountains to the west is a holy spring which was established by a shaman longer ago than anyone can remember.

A long thin log was split in half, and the two pieces carved with a central niche down their entire lengths. They are positioned together at the water source, from which they emerge at a slight angle above the waterbed, carrying two distinct streams of water. One is only for men, and one only for women. We were told this, and that we should abide by this rule out of respect for the shaman, even though, says our guide, no-one remembers why it should be so.

The water contains traces of silver, and is celebrated for its healing properties. Some people come for two weeks just to drink the water.

To reach the holy spring, you walk along a rocky dirt road meandering up through meadows and pine forests in the low hills, until you reach a small clearing at the foot of the mountain. There is a simple open gateway built of thin pale logs through which the path leads up to a shrine under a tree. The tree is festooned with ribbons of many colors, mostly blue and white, tied there by pilgrims in homage to the shaman. Beneath the tree is a square stump, on which offerings are placed - coins, cigarettes, a deck of playing cards, a hairclip.

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