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What It's Like To Stay in a Mongolian Yurt
Yurts, or gers, are synonymous with #Mongolia. With a strong nomadic #culture, gers are home to nearly half of Mongolia's population. They've become more high-tech recently, with the addition of solar panels for TV sets or cell phones. When I was in the country, I decided to stay in a yurt to see this #unique experience for myself.
Mention Mongolia and the traditional yurt often comes to mind. The two are so intertwined that you can’t talk about Mongolia and not mention the yurt.
In fact, everywhere you go in Mongolia, you see yurts or “gers” as they are known in Mongolia. The word ger literally translates from the Mongolian language to mean “house” or “home.” About half of Mongolia’s population still live in these traditional, round tents which can be taken down and moved around easily.
For over 3,000 years, the Mongolian ger has been used by the nomads who constantly move from place to place in search of better pasture for their livestock. Today, many of them are still roaming the vast steppe and living the way their ancestors have done. It continues to be an important part of the Mongolian culture and heritage.
“I was born in a ger, I grew up in a ger, I got married in a ger. I have never lived in a house."
“The ger is really special for Mongolians,” says Dawar, a Mongolian horseman who lives on the vast steppes of Ovorkhangai, “I was born in a ger, I grew up in a ger, I got married in a ger. I have never lived in a house. This is home.”
Inside a Traditional Ger
A traditional ger is a cylindrical tent made up of a wooden lattice structure and covered with waterproof wool felt or animal skin. Most gers have a door frame, bamboo poles and a wheel as the main support. You’ll also find a hole in the center of the roof used for ventilation as well as a stove in the middle of the ger that provides heat in the cold months. Temperatures can be very extreme in Mongolia, and it gets cold at night even in summer.
I visited several traditional Mongolian gers when traveling around the country and noticed that the gers mostly had the same layout inside. The entire family would live in one ger, which is usually about the size of a standard hotel/guesthouse room. Families would have a shrine, TV set or wardrobe at the far end of the ger (away from the door) and two beds lined close to the walls. There is usually a small makeshift kitchen in the center of the ger next to the stove, where the cooking is done. Next to the door, you’ll find large plastic barrels of airag (fermented mare’s milk) as well as dried curd, cheese and even goat carcasses that have been hung for months to dry and cure.
According to the Mongolians I met, it is bad luck for married couples to walk between these bamboo poles, as they are symbolic of the partnership, and the transgressor would be coming between husband and wife. The ger’s door always faces south, to avoid the harsh north-easterly winds blowing from the Siberian steppes. The western side is traditionally for the men and the eastern, women.
Mongolia’s nomads are adapting to modernization in their own way.
Life in a ger is harsh and the nomads don’t have a lot, but things are improving thanks to the advancement in technology. Solar panels are becoming an addition to the ger, giving the nomads access to electricity without being confined to one place. They use solar energy to power television sets and mobile phones.
Their lifestyle may be affected by these changes — but more so in a good way than bad. Rather than abandoning their lives on the steppes, Mongolia’s nomads are adapting to modernization in their own way.
How to Experience a Ger Stay
On my G Adventures trip, I got to spend a few days with a nomadic family to learn more about their lifestyle. Our host family welcomed us into their ger with rounds of traditional local firewater, airag, and shared with us their local traditions and practices. We spent the afternoon farming with them and playing with their children, before feasting on a traditional Mongolian barbeque with them and chatting into the night. The experience turned out to be the highlight of my trip and I can’t recommend it enough.
Nomadic Mongolia Tour
Great Wall Hiking
For the rest of my time in Mongolia, I stayed in ger camps which cater to tourists. These well-equipped camps are generally very comfortable, spruced up to meet the standards of foreign travelers. They are usually equipped with electricity, toilets and showers, central stoves as well as proper wooden beds lined with clean sheets and thick blankets.
Most camps have 20 gers or more, with two beds in each ger and a gas stove in the center to warm up the ger at night. Most of them also have a larger ger that’s used as a restaurant, where they serve up basic and westernized Mongolian dishes.
We would spend our days exploring the outdoors before arriving at the ger camps in the afternoon, in time for a shower and dinner. Long evenings were then spent chatting with fellow travelers, drinking Mongolian vodka under the stars and creating some of my favorite memories on the trip.