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March 2023
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Youth and Service

Russia’s Baikal Project Revives Ancient ‘Tea Road’

Russia-2017-07-24-Russia’s Baikal Project Revives Ancient ‘Tea Road’

Baikalsk, Russia—The 2017 Baikal Project moved into a new phase, beginning a multi-year development of parts of the ancient Russian “Tea Road.”

Although the Baikal Project has repaired sections of the road (also known as the Siberia Route) for several years, it did not focus on the road’s historical value or the potential of transport links between countries, concentrating instead on the safety of the tourist trail and the accessibility of the wild nature’s beauty to a wider audience.

These tasks have been successfully solved, and now the new goal is revival of the Tea Road as part of the region’s historical and cultural heritage. The implementation of this idea will increase the attractiveness of the Baikal region to tourists.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Tea Road passing through the Baikal region connected Russia, Europe, China and America. First it went along Lake Baikal, from Irkutsk to Mysovoi, then to Kyakhta. In the 18th century, by the decree of Empress Catherine II, the state monopoly on trade caravans was removed. This stimulated a new wave of development on the Tea Road. Merchants were always looking for shorter routes to cut costs for their caravans. The duration of one transition was about one year.

Colossal efforts, courage and strong faith allowed people to cut several tracts of the Tea Road in the mountains around Lake Baikal. Looking at them, one famous traveler compared the Siberians with the Romans in the scale and grandeur of their erected structures. The Tea Road was associated with the development of America; it expanded the exchange of cultures, the level of spiritual enlightenment, and the scale of trade. Like the development of Russian America, the Tea Road at Lake Baikal is the merchants' contribution to the development of the country, involving great risks and personal expense.

In 2017, volunteers of the Baikal Project started building a "new" path, or rather, restoring the old way—Catherine's approach to the Tea Road through the Khamar-Daban ridge. It was decided to build not a pedestrian path but a broader bicycle route that could be used for riding and other tourist transport. As in the old days, it was decided to create the path manually, which requires skill, diligence and practical experience. To build a path on the slope and preserve the natural beauty is not easy. It is impossible to use heavy equipment or heavy building materials. Therefore, realization of the project will take more than one year. In the end, a whole network of trails will be built with the addition of new routes and restoration of old, broken forest roads.

The summer 2017 season of the Baikal Project consisted of several stages. In early July, a pilot project with 10 volunteers took place near the town of Baikalsk. Soon there will be a picturesque and safe mountain path, which will create a circular two-day route with ascent to Porozhisty Peak, a mountain lake, and a magnificent mountain ridge. For the convenience of Baikal residents and guests, the path will run through a multi-kilometer natural park. Its construction will begin on a unique site, using modern technologies for constructing and equipping hiking trails. This place will become a training center for volunteers and promoters of ecological tourism.

In the second stage of the project, 18 volunteers gathered from different regions of Russia. The work was done under the guidance of the Universal Peace Federation in the persons of Evgeny Skvortsov and Tatiana Turchaninova. More than one-third of the participants this year came from the city of Ekaterinburg. It is noteworthy that this group started directly to build Catherine's tract of the Tea Road to connect the entrance near the village of Kultuk with an old tract running along the mountaintops, where a magnificent view of Lake Baikal and the valleys and spurs can be had.

Participants of the second stage attended lectures on personal growth and value-oriented volunteering. After returning to their cities, they have remained friends and communicate on the Internet, continuing their personal development by participating in a distance educational course on developing willpower. This group of volunteers worked under the motto "Heart of Khamar-Daban: How These Places Change People and How People Change Here."

The biggest stage—an international group of about 80 Korean, Japanese, Belarusian, Kazakh and Russian youth—was also held parallel with the first stage. The leaders of this group were Ralif Galiev, Alexander Timofeev, and Denis Bryukhin.

The local administration and businessmen arranged a welcome event right in the tourist camp, with vocal and dance performances and the mascot of the tourist trail: the chipmunk “Erosha.” Various teas and pies were served. Welcoming speeches were delivered by A.V. Dolzhikov, the mayor of the Slyudyansky District; V.N. Sendzyak, head of the town of Slyudyanka; and Alexei Kozlovsky, representing the Fairytale Map of Russia project. Officials of the Ministry of Tourism of the Irkutsk Region and media and television representatives also attended the welcoming event.

This stage was short but fruitful, with all kinds of construction work, hiking in the mountains, and adventures in the wild. The young people did not have time to do much, as the program of foreign volunteers included more than just the Baikal Project. But it is very important that the long-awaited international stage has taken place, and now the Baikal Project is ready to welcome new groups!

Then followed a stage of a group from the local Protestant community. They invited their like-minded friends from Germany. In this different age group there were about 20 people. The elders showed the youth an example of cordial concern and hard work. Participants acquired new skills and attained full mutual understanding that it is necessary to preserve nature and to value relations with others.

This stage demonstrated that the Baikal Project not only helps citizens of different countries to gain mutual understanding but also strengthens friendships between people of different faiths and ages. The idea of such family projects has been discussed for a long time, because participants of the Baikal Project in past years have expressed the desire to participate again, this time with their spouses and grown-up children. Another such opportunity will be available in August 2018, during one of the stages near the town of Baikalsk.

In August, a small group of volunteers took part in the final stage. They set up observation platforms and improved individual sections of the trail built by other groups earlier this year. There were not so many participants, but even a small contribution can bring great benefits if one puts one’s efforts in the right direction and acts wisely. The leadership of the last two stages was carried out by Yevgeny Rakityansky, realizing his long-cherished dream of an interreligious stage. The format of the Baikal Project is easily adapted to any number of participants, their level of education or cultural traditions, with preservation of value orientations, and with the possibility of positive changes in the two-week period of the project.

In general, during the 2017 summer season the volunteers have built on the slope 500 meters of a new, wide and smooth path in the form of a serpentine with a constant inclination angle acceptable for trained cyclists. They outlined the further route of the trail and developed a new technology for utilization of the soil, stones and turf accumulated during the laying of the trail. As a result, the new trail looks complete, and one does not need to wait a year for new grass to grow and for the rains to wash away the scattered soil. Two observation platforms, benches, and fences were installed. A large glade for the base camp was constructed; a comfortable campfire site was built as well as a ladder for descending to the water and a bridge across the river. A place was prepared for the group to enter the hiking trail near the town of Baikalsk; and the town itself now has a convenient warehouse for storing construction and tourist equipment.

In 2017, which in Russia was declared as the Year of Ecology, the Baikal Project entered a new stage of development. In strategic terms, it should become the leading project in the southern Baikal territory in development of natural territory and volunteerism while maintaining core values. For this, a transition will be needed from a project created at the expense of its own resources to a format for the activities of a non-profit organization that can interact with different structures at a new level.

For routine tasks to preserve the constructed routes, to explore and design new trails, to organize school and family long-term programs, to create a methodical base, handouts, periodicals, books, tourist maps and souvenirs, we need the resources that go beyond the personal capabilities of the organizers. To form the status of a leading project in the region, it is necessary to create a visitor-information center on the trail of the Baikal Project. The territory for such a center of a non-profit organization can be allocated by the municipality. The logic of life, the requests of the local community, the historical reality and the organizers' desire to make a positive contribution to development of the Baikal region are pushing toward implementation of the plans for development of the Baikal Project.

Hon. Ahmed Mohammed Al Jarwan, an MP from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said, "I praise the symbol you have chosen" (referring to the Lebanese Parliament).

Hon. Abed Al-Mahsiri, a Jordanian MP, spoke of his work with Palestinian refugees and shared that while he was asking himself if there are any peace activists in this world, he found UPF, and was invited by UPF to attend a conference in the United States. "I am proud to spread UPF's values," he sincerely declared.

Hon. Anas Al-Shami, a Syrian MP, said: "We want peace. Conflicts are generated by Satan. Six years of war in Syria; declare to everyone what is going on—wars under the label of the Arab Spring. We are gathered [together] as one common humanity, one family under God. We have to be the [heirs] of God on earth, [and] prepare ourselves to [end] conflict."