Nomad camp

Mongolian Ger: Felt-dwelling of nomads

Mongolian Ger: Felt-dwelling of nomads

Who carries their house on their back except for turtles? The answer is a nomad, although the back is that of a camel or a yak.

Mongolian Ger

In recent years, the portable, circular dwelling of nomads has become a symbol of Central Asian countries. Its Turkish name – yurt – is adopted into several foreign languages, including Russian and English. However, each nomadic nation has a word for its traditional mobile home in its language. The Kyrgyz say "bos" (gray house), the Kazakhs "kiyiz" (felted house), the Turkmen "ak/kara" (white/black house), and the Tuvans "өg" (house).

Mongolia ger camp

We are going to focus on the Mongolian portable tent – ger. In Mongolian, the word "ger" describes both a home and a felt tent. Even those living in a high-rise apartment or a mega-mansion call their home a ger. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus gave the first written description of the nomad's felt dwelling. He wrote about the Scythians' tents in his books, which looked slightly different from those we see today. The nomads have been redesigning the ger until it took its present form – a simple yet sophisticated housing that can withstand harsh weather conditions.

Mongolian ger, yurt

What makes the ger perfect for migration? It has five attributes that can answer this question:

  • It is easy to disassemble and reassemble. Two or three adults can dismantle the ger in half an hour and assemble it in an hour and a half.
  • It is portable. Three camels or three yaks hitched to carts is enough to transfer a whole ger from one camp to another.
  • It is weather-resistant. The ger wouldn't fall in severe wind gusting over 100 km/h. It can also endure both snowstorms and sandstorms.
  • It allows heat control; by making a fire in the stove on cold days and lifting the lower end of the felt layer on hot days.
  • It is budget-friendly. If skillful enough, one can craft a ger by the do-it-yourself method, using woods, ropes made of horse/yak hair, and felt made of sheep's wool. Those who lack craftsmanship can purchase it at a reasonable price from an artisan.
Building a Mongolian ger

The ger consists of five parts:

Mongolian ger structure
  • The crown (toono/тооно) - a circular, wheel-like part, fixed at the center of the roof. The felt-layers covering the crown could be moved to let the light in, the hot air out, and ventilate the chimney.
Mongolian ger toono, crown
  • Support pillars (bagana/багана) support the crown from below.
Mongolian ger, support pillars
  • The wall (khana/хана) is a three or more wooden section strapped together by ropes. The walls are packed easily onto animals as they can be folded like an accordion when dismantled. The number of the walls defines the ger's size: the smallest is a three-wall ger, and the regular is a five-wall that can easily accommodate a family of five.
Mongolian ger wall
  • The roof poles (uni/унь) extend outward from the crown to the top of the wall, resembling rays of sunlight.
Mongolian ger roof poles
  • The door (khaalga/хаалга) always faces south. Being the main "window" in the ger, it faces the sun's direction at all times.
Mongolian ger door

After putting together the wooden frames, the nomads cover the whole thing with felt layers – several in winter and a single layer in summer.

Assembling a Mongolian ger

The round-white tents scattered throughout the grassland have become the central image of Mongolia. The gers are just as common in the country's capital, Ulaanbaatar, as in the countryside. Many former nomads who had given up the nomadic lifestyle often move to the city to pursue different job opportunities. As most of them can't afford to buy an apartment, these new-comers often settle in the outskirts in difficult conditions without running water, access to sewerage, and sometimes even electricity. With no access to the city's central heating system, they warm their homes by burning coal, producing terrible air pollution that once made Ulaanbaatar the most polluted city in the world.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, ger district

The Mongolian government has been fighting pollution quite successfully, and the air quality has improved significantly in recent years. We can conclude that while the ger is a genius invention fit for the nomadic lifestyle, it is not suited for the sedentary lifestyle.


A very special way to discover the lifestyle and traditions of the Mongols is to stay a few days with nomadic families. Accompanied by a translator, for a short while you will become a nomadic family member. Grazing the herds, riding horses, and eating the local cuisine are just a small part of the whole experience.

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