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The Bajkal Sea covers 31,500 square km. and is 636 km. long, at its widest point it is 79,4 km. Its water basin occupies about 557,000 square km. and contains about 23,000 cubic km. of water. This adds up to about one fifth of the world's reserves of fresh water and more than 80 per cent of the fresh water reservoir in the former Soviet Union. The Bajkal Sea is the deepest lake in the world. The presently known maximum depth is 1,637 m. However, this is far from the whole story, as Bajkal's inscrutable depths hide huge underwater voids which are connected to channels that run deeply into the underworld.

Bajkal is situated in Eastern Siberia, in the Buryat Autonomous Republic and Irkutsk Region of Russia, and is the natural boundary between Russian Siberia and present-day Mongolia. It plays a momentous role in Mongol history. The Secret History of The Mongols relates, through its ancestral myth, how the Mongol people came into being: The blue-gray wolf and his wife, the reddish-brown deer, came from Siberia and travelled together across the "inland sea" - that is the Bajkal Sea.

When these two had reached the Onon river on the Eastern side of Bajkal, their first son, Batachikan, was born. Batachikan was then the first human ancestor of Chingis Khan. Mythologically speaking, travelling across water is symbolic of transcendence, of reaching new stages. The Bajkal Sea was thus the catalyst of the emergence of the Mongol nation, and also the bridge between the two main constituents of the spiritual ancestry of the Mongols: The Northern, Siberian forest and taiga element, and the grassland and plain element. Consistent with this significant role of the Bajkal Sea in Mongol history: In the vicinity of the Bajkal Sea were born two key figures of the history of the Mongols: Chingis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire and the greatest politician who ever lived, and Subedei, his forever faithful and most gifted general. It merits mention that "chingis" in all probability comes from Turkish tengiz, which means "large body of water, sea." The meaning of Chingis Khan will then be "Khan from the Sea." We can easily guess from which sea Chingis Khan took his name, and this implies that the real meaning of his title is "Khan from the Bajkal Sea," once more emphasizing the crucial role of Bajkal in the Mongolian spiritual universe. As for the sea herself, water is a feminine element, and the name of the goddess and ruler of Bajkal is Bajkal-eke. (Eke means "mother" in Mongolian.)

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Per Inge Oestmoen
Norway N-069 3

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