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A typical Mongolian ger out on the Mongolian steppe. In this image you can see the families working horses waiting to be ridden as well as the hand-made dairy products drying in the sun

The Mongolian Ger

If there was a tick-list for experiences that travellers look for on their visit to Mongolia then sleeping in a Mongolian ger would be pretty close to the top. However, when sleeping in a ger or even visiting a family ger en-route there is very much an etiquette that has to be followed. Here are a few facts and some ger rules to help your visit. All photos used have been taken by guests of EL.

  • The word ‘ger’ is Mongolian for home – the word ‘yurt’ comes from the old Turkish for ‘dwelling place’.

 

  • The ger has had an influential role in shaping the Mongolian character and Mongolian family life. The small confines prevent privacy but compel families to interact and to share everything. Life in a ger tightens the relationship between relatives – making families stronger.

A Mongolian ger - Gorkhi Terelj National Park

  • The door of a ger will always face south. The orientation of the ger is symbolically important to Mongolians as a ger is regarded as the centre of the universe, as well as a microcosm within it. The doorway facing south allows for light and warmth of the southern sun to come through the doorway as well as preventing the mainly north-north-west wind from entering, thus providing protection.

A Mongolian ger door

 

  • The main components of a Mongolian ger are the wooden framework and the felt cover. The number of lattice walls determines the size of the ger with most herders’ gers having five walls. Felt (made from sheep wool) and canvas provide the insulation and cover with the top of the ger having a felt flap that can be pulled over the roof ring during inclement weather. The lattice wall sections (khana) of gers are made from a light pliable wood such as willow and tied together with strips of leather.

 

  • Depending on the size, a ger can easily be collapsed, dismantled and packed away in a few hours prior to a herding family starting their migration. Learn more about the migration process on our Mongolian nomads’ migration post.

A ger being collapsed prior to a herding family migrating

  • Guests usually move in a clockwise direction when entering a ger – following the direction of the sun from sunrise to sunset. The west (left) is usually where saddles, bridles and other items associated with men’s work are situated. The east (right) is usually where food and cooking implements are situated  – the women’s side of the ger.

The interior decoration of a traditional ger - including the beautiful orange decorative paintwork

  • Traditional ornamental patterns including auspicious symbols are a primary form of decoration in a ger – you will find these patterns on the door, the ger supports and other furniture. Orange is the main colour – the colour of joy, energy and warmth.You will see designs of the Buddhist Swastika and lions, tigers, dragons and the mythical Garuda. There are also stylised representations of the five elements. Patterns used in embroidery, bedcovers and tablecloths are usually symbols of beauty and nature such as flowers or butterflies. The Buddhist ‘Knot of Eternity’, a geometric design, is also frequently used.

The interior of a ger

  • As you walk through the door, you should notice the stove/fire  – the central feature. Either side of the stove are the two central support columns. Try not to lean on them  or pass something between them as it may cause bad luck. The two central posts are said to support the ger, like a husband and wife support the family and also represent the past, present and future.
  • Within the Mongolian ger, it is not rude to come and go as you please nor is sitting on beds considered offensive; these double as seats even if someone is sleeping in one. If you’re in need of one, taking a short nap is considered perfectly acceptable.

Admittedly, that’s quite a lot to think about in a short afternoon visit. The best thing you can do is relax, try to be aware of your actions and make sure to enjoy what will probably prove to be one of the highlights of your visit to Mongolia. If you would like to learn more about the country then use this link to our Mongolia country profile

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. Together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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