Tunkinsky National Park

The second largest Russian national park was established in 1991 to preserve the unique ecosystems of the Tunkinskaya Plain, situated between two great Asian lakes – the Baikal (in the east) and the Khubsugul (in the west). The highest peak of Eastern Siberia, the majestic Munku-Sardyk, is located near the western border of the park.

The plain is often called the “Territory of Siberian narzans (type of mineral water) due to the abundance of healing springs similar to the famous springs of the Caucasus and Carpathian mountains. The historical-cultural heritage of the park is represented by numerous archeological and religious monuments. The culture of the Buryat people is of particular interest; it integrates the elements of shamanism and Buddhism.

The park is situated in the south-western part of the Republic of Buryatia. In the east and in the north the park borders with the Irkutsk Region; the park shares its western and south-western borders with Mongolia; the southern part borders on the Zakamensky District of Buryatia. Tunkinsky Park is stretched in longitudinal direction. The international motor highway Kultuk-Mondy, connecting Russia and Mongolia, crosses its territory.

The park is located at the Tunkinskaya Plain bordered from the north with Tunkinsky bald mountains which are the Sayans eastern spurs. From the south and from the west it is edged with Khamar-Daban Range and its branches. The Tunkinsky bald mountains represent the high-mountain range (absolute altitudes of 2700-3200 meters) with peaky horns (the karlings), chair-shaped ravines (the kars), V-shaped creek valleys, gorges, canyons, waterfalls, rapids and other terrain forms. The park’s area is 1183.7 thousand hectares.

One can get to the park from the bus terminals of Irkutsk, Slyudanka, Ulan-Ude that arrive to the Kyren village.

Rivers, lakes and mineral springs
The main waterway of the park is the Irkut River that flows out of Lake Ilchir at 1963 meters above sea level. The river’s length is 500 kilometres and it flows into the Angara near Irkutsk. Within the park’s territory, the river flows down its middle course for over 247 km. The Irkut feeds on rainwater and melted ice. The river’s main tributaries within the park’s area are: the Yekhe-Ukhgun, the Yengarga, the Tunka (the left feeders) and the Khalagun, the Big and the Small Zangisan, the Kharagun and the Zun-Muren (the right tributaries).

There are many small lakes in the park; most of them are of glacial origin. The most notable ones are Lake Khobokskoye and the set of Komorsky Lakes which are declared as protected environments. The park’s territory is famous for its numerous mineral springs many of which are known as “healing”. The springs are very diverse with respect to their chemical and hydro-thermal properties. They are acidulous waters of the Arshan resort, chalybeate springs of Khongor-Uly, methane thermae of the Zhemchugsky mineral springs, silica-radon springs of the Nilova Desert and the acidulous radon thermae of the Shumak.

Plant life
The park’s dominant vegetation type is that of taiga. The pine woods and mountain-taiga cedar forests are typical for the north-east of the park. In the west, the predominant vegetation is cedar-larch forests. The southern and south-eastern parts of the park are occupied by mountain-taiga cedar forests with a bit of fir-tree woods. Among the steppe forests of the piedmont area the pine forests prevail. There are rare plant species that grow in the park and many of them are endemic and ancient.

Animal life
The park is populated with more than 300 vertebrate species. The common fish are the grayling and the lenok; the amphibians are the Siberian salamander, the Siberian toad and the Siberian frog; the reptiles are the common lizard, the Dione snake and the Central Asian viper.

Birds, the most numerous vertebrate group, account for over 220 species. The majority of them (more than 200) are nesting birds including the mallard duck, the common teal, the tufted duck, the three-toed woodpecker and the hoopoe. There are 50 mammals species including the water shrew, the arctic hare, the flying squirrel, the Daurian hamster, the wood lemming, the wolf, the sable, the badger, the wolverine, the lynx, the boar, the Siberian musk deer, the roe deer and the red deer (the royal stag).

Rare mammal species include the snow leopard, the red dog, the otter, the rein deer and the Siberian ibex. The rare birds are the black stork, the lesser spotted woodpecker, the clough, the Altai snowcock, the eagle owl and other owl species including the snowy owl, the long-eared owl, the short-eared owl, the hawk owl, the scops owl, the saw-whet owl, the Siberian gray owl. Birds of prey are the white-tailed eagle, the saker falcon, the peregrine falcon, the golden eagle and the fish hawk.

Natural attractions
There are many interesting natural sights in the park including the following:

The Kyngarga River. There is a Kyngarga (kyngarga means the drum in Buryatian) canyon near the Arshan resort. The bottom of the canyon is covered with water-polished marble of ping and yellow color. The river is famous for its 12 waterfalls which are declared the monuments of nature and situated nor far from the Arshan resort. The one of the oldest trees – the long-liver larch tree – grows in the resort’s park.

The dormant volcano, Talsk Top, (798 meters above sea level) is located near the Taloye village in the north-eastern part of the Koymorsk lakes. It is the majestic volcanic formation of the Quaternary period that greet the travelers with a magnificent view.

The dormant volcano, Kovrizhka, is situated at the piedmont of the Tunkinsky bald mountains near the Arshan. It’s a conical volcanic formation of the early Quaternary period.

The naked White Ravine is situated at the Irkut’s left bank, half a kilometre to the east of the Zaktuy village. It belongs to the most interesting and well-studied profiles of quaternary deposits of the Tunkinskaya Plain. At the present time it is considered one of the most important Baikal stratotypes.

Health resorts
The Arshan Resort:
The healing springs of Arshan were discovered by local hunters many years ago. The word “Arshan” means healing water. The resort is located at the piedmont of the Tunkinsky bald mountains at a height of 893 meters above sea level. There are two health centres at the resort’s territory: the “Arshan” (600 patients capacity) and the “Sayans” (550 patients capacity). The resort’s mineral carbonated waters have a healing effect and are used for external and oral administration.

The Nilova Desert Resort is situated at an altitude of 915 meters above sea level between picturesque mountain slopes covered with virgin forests.
The healing properties of Nilova Desert’s three springs are known since the year 1840. The resort is proud for its radon spring. Its mineral waters contain a lot of silicic acid and fluorine which makes it a unique treatment method for healing skin and joint diseases.

The Khongorulskiye Springs consist of more than 10 outlets of underground mineral water and are located at piedmonts of the Gurga-Daban Range in the Kharagun river-valley, 9 km from the Zhemchug village. The springs are situated in the mountain area covered with beautiful forests.

The Zhemchugsky Mineral Spring is situated near the Zhemchug village on the right bank of the Irkut River. The water-bearing layer of thermal mineral waters lies at a depth of 700 meters. The thermal waters are a permanent and hot 37-38 0С temperature.

The Shumak. “The Plain of 100 Springs” is a natural area of particular beauty located at the base of rocky mountains with icy rapid rivers, picturesque waterfalls and healing springs. The waters of the springs are said to heal various disorders.
trans siberian railway

History and culture
The land of the Tunkinskaya Plain is abundant with historical monuments; some of them date back to the Palaeolithic era. Silk, tea, bronze, gold and other roads used to pass through this region. In the Soviet period, particularly during World War II and shortly afterwards, the cattle-driving roads from Mongolia crossed the plain. The horse back and walking tour itineraries demonstrate many interesting cultural and historical monuments for the tourists.

There are many cultic objects in the plain including the worship sites not only for the believers but also for curious tourists:

The Datsans (Buddhist monasteries): There are two datsans in the Tunkinsky District: “Bodhidkharma” in Arshan and “Tushita” in Kyren. The Arshan datsan was established in 1917.

Buhkhan-Baabay or Khan Shargay-noyon is an ancient Buddhist architectural ensemble, one of the major objects of cultural heritage. It is situated beyond the Nilova Desert at the base of the holy mountain Sagaan Khayran.

Hunting and fishing
The following hunting types are permitted at the park’s territory: the upland and water fowl, the roe deer, the boar, the Far Eastern red deer, the bear, the sable and other fur-bearing species.
Тhe lakes and rivers of the park are used for the amateur fishing of the grayling, the lenok, the pike, the perch and the roach.