Like a “sea” the sacred Lake Baikal has its own islands. Officially there are 22 islands. Some researchers say that they are about 30. In some publications 47 islands are mentioned… The problem is whether to consider or not islands which look like small stony areas impregnated into Baikal waters. In any case, almost all the islands are so small that they can be hardly mapped in the most detailed map. Therefore, Olkhon Island differs from other islands in its sizes: 700 km2 in area, 71.7 km long and 14 km wide.
Olkhon is a mountainous island. It is located in the middle part of the lake close to the western coast, thus forming a vast shallow area with its own microclimate – Maloye More (Small Sea), in the Buryat language “Narin-Dalay”, i.e. narrow sea. The southwest of the island is separated from the “mainland” by Olkhon Gate Strait, which is famous for its insidious temper. Local people call this dangerous and almost always windy swift current strait a cemetery for sunken ships. It is rarely calm here - sometimes waves reach 5 m high.
The western coast of Olkhon Island washed by the waters of Maloye More is not tall but hilly, mainly sloping and rich in small bays with sandy bottom. The eastern coast, on the contrary, is mountainous with steep rocky cliffs of up to 80 m high. Here there is the highest point of the island – Mount Zhima (1274 m). The deepest point (1637 m) in Lake Baikal is located 11 km off the island. The southern part of Olkhon Island is steppe. High grasses and magnificent meadows please the eye in spring and summer. Northward, the island is covered with forests in which larch, pine, birch and aspen dominate.
In the forests there are springs which nourish small swamps and some little streams. There are no rivers on the island but there are lakes the most famous of which are Khankhoy, Nurskoye, Shara-Nur, and Nuku-Nur. Lake Khankhoy or Kholoy-Nur (“kholoy” means a throat in the Buryat language and “nur” – a lake) that is almost completely covered with algae to the bottom is a wonderful place for fishing. Here there is roach, perch, and pike. Sometimes a pike may be of over 10 kg. It is also a place for excursions – there are a lot of archaeological monuments in the vicinity. Lake Nurskoye with its shores overgrown with pondweed, an aqueous plant, connected with Zagli Bay by a narrow channel, is well warmed up in summer. But the water is not so transparent as in Lake Baikal because of the slimy bottom. The saline Lake Shara-Nur (yellow lake) is famous for its medicinal properties the mud from which helps cure from arthritis and other diseases. It is the only lake on Olkhon Island with mineralized water. Lake Nuku-Nur is a rocky crater filled with very warm water. It is almost impossible to bathe in it because of a great abundance of fish and other lake living creatures.