1902 Encyclopedia > Transbaikalia (Transbaikal; Trans-baikal), Russia

(also known as: Transbaikal; Trans-baikal)

TRANSBAIKALIA (Zabaikalskaya Oblast), a province sea). Quite different is the lower terrace of the plateau, xxii. of Eastern Siberia, to the east of Lake Baikal, has Irkutsk occupied by the eastern Gobi and the Nertchinsk region on the west, Yakutsk on the north, the province of Amur of Transbaikalia, and separated from the above by the on the east, and Mongolia on the south. Its area Yablonovoi ridge. This last is the south-eastern border (240,780 square miles) is about as great as that of Austria- ridge of the higher terrace. It rises to 8250 feet in the Hungary, but its population is under half a million. With Sokhondo peak, but elsewhere its dome-shaped summits regions of a purely Siberian character on the one hand, do not exceed 5000 or 6000 feet. When crossing it from and including on the other the outer borders of the the north-west, about Tchita, the traveller hardly perceives Mongolian steppes and the upper basin of the Amur, that he is approaching the great water-parting between the Transbaikalia forms an intermediate link between Siberia, Arctic and the Pacific oceans. Numberless lakes, with flat Mongolia, and the northern Pacific littoral. The mountains undefined borders, feed streams which flow lazily amidst of the Yablonovoi Khrebet, which run in a north-easterly marshes, some of them to join the great northward rivers, direction from the sources of the Keruleii to the bend of others to find their way to the Amur and the Pacific. Low the Olekma in 56° N. lat., divide the province into two hills rise gently above the edge of the plateau, but an quite distinct parts : to the west the upper terrace of the abrupt slope descends towards the south-east, where the high East Asian plateau continued from the upper Selenga hill-foots of the Yablonovoi are nearly 1500 and 2000 feet and Yenisei (from 4000 to 5000 feet high) towards the lower than on the north-west. Climate, flora, and fauna plateau of the Vitim (3500 to 4000 feet); and to the east suddenly change as soon as the Yablonovoi has been the lower terrace of the same plateau (about 2800 feet crossed ; the steppes of Dauria (continuations of those of high), which appears as a . continuation of the eastern the Gobi), covered with a bright luxuriant vegetation, Gobi. The continuity of the high plateau extending from meet the view of the spectator. The Siberian flora gives the upper Selenga to the upper Vitim was for a long time way to the much richer Daurian flora, which in turn is overlooked in consequence of a broad and deep valley by exchanged for the Pacific littoral flora as soon as the which it is intersected. Beginning at Lake Baikal, it traveller descends from the lower terrace of the plateau pierces the huge north-western border-ridge of the plateau, . towards the Manchurian plains and lowlands.

The lower terrace, occupied in Transbaikalia by the Nertchinsk district, has the character of a steppe, but is also intersected by a number of ranges, all running southwest to north-east, and all being plications of Silurian and drawn west and east on older maps to connect the Yablonovoi with the Okhotsk ridge have no actual existence.

The rivers belong to three different systems, - the affluents of Lake Baikal, of the Lena, and of the Amur. Of the first the Selenga (800 miles long) rises in the Hanghai Mountains of northwestern Mongolia, one of its great tributaries (the Ebin-gol) being an emissary of Lake Kossogol. It flows past Selenghinsk and enters Lake Baikal from the south-east, forming/a wide delta. The Tchikoi, the Kbitok, and the Uda are its chief tributaries in Transbaikalia.' The Barguzin and the Upper Angara are two large tributaries of Lake Baikal from the north-east. Of the tributaries of the Lena, the Vitim with its affluents (Karenga, Tsipa, Muya, Katakan) flows on the high plateau through uninhabited regions, as also does the Olekma. The tributaries of the Amur, which is formed by the junction of the Shilka and the Argud, are much more important. The Argue, which at a quite recent epoch received the waters of the Dalai-nor, and thus had the Kerulen for its source, is no longer in communication with the rapidly drying Mongolian lake, and has its sources in the Gad, which flows from the Great Khingan. It is not navigable, but receives the Gazimur and several other streams which water the Nertchinsk mining district. The Shilka is formed by the union of the Onon and the Tchita rivers, and is navigable from the town of Tchita, thus being an important channel of transit to the Amur.

Lake Baikal, with an area of 12,430 square miles (nearly equal to that of Switzerland), extends in a half crescent from south-west to north-east ; it has a length of over 400 miles and a width of from 20 to 53 miles. Its level is 1561 feet above the sea.2 About the middle it is divided into two parts, the Great Lake and the Little Lake, by the island Olkhon and the peninsula of Svyatoi Nos, which closely approach one another. Between the two there is a submerged ridge, which must be considered as a continuation of the Barguzin Alps. The wide delta of the Selenga narrows the Great Lake in its middle part, and renders it more shallow in the east than in the west - the greatest depth (4186 feet) having been reached by Dr Godlevski in the south-west. The depth of the Little Lake does not exceed 210 feet. According to Tehersky, the trough now occupied by the base had its origin in three separate synclinal valleys, which date from the Azoic epoch, and were gulfs of the ocean during the Silurian or Huronian period. They coalesced at a much later epoch.3 Of other lakes, the Gusinoye and Lake Baunt on the Vitim plateau, and Oron at its base, are worthy of notice. Many lakes yield common salt or sulphate of natron.

The high plateau consists of granites, gneisses, and syenites, covered with Laurentian schists. Silurian and Devonian marine deposits occur only on the lower terrace. Since that time the region has not been under the sea, and only freshwater Jurassic deposits and coal-beds are met with in the depressions. During the Glacial period most of the high terrace of the plateau and its border ridges were undoubtedly covered with vast glaciers. Volcanic rocks of more recent origin (Mesozoic ?) are met with in the north-western border ridge and on its slopes, as well as on the Vitim plateau. During the Glacial period the fauna of the lowest parts of Transbaikalia was decidedly arctic ; while during the Lacustrine or Post-Glacial period it was covered with numberless lakes, the E Tchersky, "Results of the Exploration of Lake Baikal," In Mem. Russ. Geogr. Soc., Phys. Geogr., voL xv., 1886, with a geological map on a scale of 7 miles to an inch; Fr. Schmidt's report In the yearly Report of the Russian Geographical Society for 1886 (both Russian).

shores of which were inhabited by Neolithic man. Only few traces of these have remained, and they are rapidly drying up. Earthquakes are very frequent on the shores of Lake Baikal, especially at the mouth of the Selenga, extending as far as Irkutsk, Barguzin, and Selenghinsk ; in 1862 an extensive area was submerged by the lake. Numerous mineral springs, some of them of high repute, are spread all over Transbaikalia. The chief of them are the hot alkaline springs (130° F.) at Turka, at the mouth of the Barguzin, whither hundreds of patients resort annually, those of Pogromna on the Uda (very similar to the Seltzer springs), those of Motokova near Tchita, and those of Darasnn in the Nertchinsk district (very rich in carbonic acid and phosphate of iron).

The flora and fauna of Transbaikalia, owing to their intermediate character between a purely Siberian flora and fauna and those characteristic of the Mongolian and Manchurian regions, have been the subject of many careful investigations since the time of Pallas down to those of Turczaninoff, Middendorff, Schrenck, Betide, and Polyakoff. Their various characters in different parts of this extensive territory could not be described without entering too largely into details. The reader may consult the works of the authors just named (see vol. xxii. p. 12).

The climate is, as a whole, exceedingly dry and extreme. The winter is cold and dry; snow is so trifling that the horses of the Buriats find their food throughout the winter on the steppes, and in the very middle of the winter wheeled vehicles are used all over the west. To the east of the Yablonovoi ridge the Nertchinsk district feels the influence of the North Pacific monsoon region, and snow falls more thickly, especially in the valleys, but the summer continues to be hot and dry. On the high plateau, even the summer is cold, owing to the altitude and the humidity arising from the marshes, and the soil is frozen to a great depth. In the vicinity of Lake Baikal the moderating influence of the great water-basin is felt to some extent, and there is a cooler summer ; in winter exceedingly deep snow covers the goltsys and valleys..of the mountains around the lake.° The population (497,760 in 1882) is exceedingly sparse, unless the immense uninhabitable spaces of the plateaus be left out of account. Even on the lower terrace nearly the whole of the region on the left bank of the Shilka is unsuited for agriculture, as also are the Gazimur Mountains, where only a few settlers gain a livelihood in some of the valleys, struggling against an unhealthy climate and the influence of goitre. The Russian population there gathers around the crown mines of the Nertchinsk district, while the steppes are occupied by Buriats. A succession of villages, supported partly by agriculture and partly by hunting and trade with Mongolia, are settled along the Shilka between Tchita and Sryetensk, while farther down the river flows in such a wild mountain region that only a few families are settled, at distances some 20 miles apart, to maintain communication. The same is true with regard to the lower Argue. The valleys of the Uda, the lower Selenga, and especially the Tchikoi and the Kliitok have been occupied since the beginning of the century by Raskolniks, who have received the name of Semeiskiye on account of their large (compound) families, and there one finds, in a condition of prosperity such as is unknown in Russia proper, some of the finest representatives of the Russian race. The remainder of the steppe of the Uda is occupied by Buriats, while the forests and marshes of the plateau are the hunting grounds of the nomad Tunguses. Only the valley of the Djida in the south of the Khamar-daban is settled in its lower parts.

The Russians of Transbaikalia present a great variety of ethnological types. Mainly owing to the difficulties of communication, many Great Russian Raskolniks and Little Russian settlers have preserved their ethnographical features pure from any admixture; while there are, on tie other hand, villages in the Nertchinsk district, chiefly composed of the earliest Russian settlers, where a great admixture of Tungusian or Mongolian blood is observable. On the upper Arguil the Cossacks are in features, character, language, and manners largely Mongolian. The Russians along the Chinese frontier constitute a separate voisko of the Transbaikalian Cossacks. There is great uncertainty as to the numbers of the Buriats ; they are estimated at about 150,000. The Tunguses number only a very few thousands.

Agriculture is carried on to a limited extent by the Buriats and in all Russian settlements; but it prospers only in the valleys of west Transbaikalia, and partly in the 1N ertchinsk region, while in the steppes of the Argue and Onon even the Russians resort chiefly to cattle-breeding and trade, or to lmnting. On the whole, corn has to be imported ; summer wheat and summer rye, oats, and barley are the chief crops in the east, winter rye not being sown in consequence of the want of snow. Cattle-rearing is extensively carried on, especially by the Buriats, but their herds and flocks, which wander freely over the steppes throughout the winter, are often destroyed in great numbers by the snow-storms of spring. Hunting is an important occupation, even with the Russians, many of whom leave their homes in October to spend six weeks in the taiga (forest-region). The fisheries of Lake Baikal and the lower parts of its affluents are important. Enormous quantities of Saw omul are taken every year ; and, although the curing is most primitive, the annual yield is valued at £20,000. The Salmo thymalus, S. oxyrhynchus, and S. fluviatilis are also taken largely.

The possibilities of discoveries of gold are absorbing all the industrial forces of Transbaikalia. Gold-diggings occur chiefly in the basins of the Shilka and the upper Vitim, also on the Tchikoi and the Khilok. No less than 25,400 lb is extracted annually by private enterprise, and about 3200 lb by the crown, at the Kara gold-diggings, where nearly 1400 convicts are employed. The silver mining formerly carried on at several crown works is now on the decrease (see NERTCHINSK); the quantity extracted in 1884 was only 241 lb. Every kind of manufactured ware has to be imported from Russia; and even petty trades are almost unknown in the villages.

The trade of the province is chiefly represented by that of Kiakhta. The Cossacks on the frontier carry on some trade in brick-tea, cattle, and hides with Mongolia. The export of furs is of considerable value.

The communications of Transbaikalia are limited to the great Amur highway, which fringes the south coast of Lake Baikal and passes through Verkhneudinsk, Tchita, and Nertchinsk to Sryetensk, whence steamers ply down to the mouth of the Amur ; in winter, further communication with the Amur beyond Sryetensk is maintained on sledges on the ice of the Shilka, but in the autumn and spring a horseback journey as far as Kumara is the only possible method of reaching the middle Amur. Steamer communication is also maintained for six or seven months across Lake Baikal, from Posolskoye, at the mouth of the Selenga, to Listvenichnaya, 40 miles from Irkutsk. A highway connects Verkhneudinsk with Selenghinsk and Kiakhta, and communication on the steppes of the Arguli and the Onon as well as up the Barguzin is easy. The rest of Transbaikalia can be visited only on horseback.

Transbaikalia is divided into five districts, the chief towns of which (with populations in 1880) are Tchita, capital of the province (12,600 inhabitants), Barguzin (800), Nertchinsk (4070), Selenghinsk (1150), and Verkhneudinsk (4150). Kiakhta has 4290 inhabitants, and Sryetensk, being at the head of the navigation, is a rising town. (P. A. K.) See voL

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