Chapter Twelve
LAKE BAIKAL: SIBERIA’S SACRED SEA

When the Russians began moving into the mountain and steppe of the Pribaikal and Transbaikal in the early seventeenth century, they could not have known that a magnificent body of water would await them. The earliest route into the Baikal region was in the 1620s along the Lena river, known by local Tungus as the Elyuene, towards the Pribaikal. The Russians followed the Lena to Ust-Kut, where in 1628 they built a winter stockade (zimovye). This was later turned into a fortress (ostrog) by the Cossack Ivan Galkin. In the 1630s it grew to become the site of salt works founded by the explorer and merchant Yerofey Khabarov.

Meanwhile, east of Lake Baikal, Cossacks were pressing due south from the Lena into the Transbaikal (Zabaikal) region. Here, too, they encountered Tungus. The Cossack ataman Maksim Perfilev was one of the earliest Russians to travel to the Transbaikal, reaching the region in 1638 by sailing south up the Lena with a contingent of 36 Cossacks, following

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