Olkhon is the biggest of Baikal's 26 islands – it is 71,1 km long and 15 km wide at its widest point. The island is mountainous, and its western shore gently slopes into the Maloye More whereas the eastern shore meets the lake with rocky cliffs up to 80 m high. The name comes from the Buryat word “oi-khon”, meaning “little forest” or “quiet forest”. The population of the island is less than 1500 and made up of Buryats and Russians – the majority live in Khuzhir. The main occupations are fishing and sheep herding.
In Buryat myths and legends, Olkhon is the home of Baikal's most powerful spirits. The island is considered to be the sacred centre of the Northern Shamanic world, and when Mongol Shamans were being persecuted by Buddhists in Genghis-Khan's time, they fled here. At the end of the 1990s, the shamans of the Republic of Buryatia officially recognized Olkhon island as “the principle sanctuary, cultural centre and sacred homeland of the Buryat people, of significance to all Mongol and Central Asia peoples”.