Everything you need to know about Mongolian ger
The world’s 18th largest country, the second largest landlocked country, and at seven times larger than the UK, Mongolia is a vast expanse of diverse forest and desert largely unexplored and underappreciated.
With sheep outnumbering humans 35 to 1, you can be sure to beat the crowds and head right off the beaten path.
This traditional country of nomads has larger cities such as the capital Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) but a vast majority of its population spend their lives travelling and living in Mongolian tents, otherwise known as the Mongolian ger.
So what is a Mongolian ger? Is it just a traditional yurt? Not quite. The Mongol tent is similar to a traditional yurt tent but they have their own distinctions dating far back.
History of the Ger
Mongolian ancient history is hard to learn about, because before Genghis Khan, nothing was recorded or written down. So the history of the ger, how old it is and where it originated from is largely unknown. No one truly knows when the ger came into existence, but in 600 BC the ger was quoted by Herodotus, often referred to as the forefather of travel.
What is the difference between a traditional yurt tent and Mongolian ger?
The main visible difference between a yurt tent and a Mongolian ger is the roof and how it is built. Both are round structures secured with wood beams, but the traditional yurt tent has a much higher roof, meaning it is less effective as keeping it warm in winter. The beams of the roof will go upwards, whereas a Mongolian ger’s roof is flat.
For those tall ones out there who often find themselves banging their head on low door frames, you’ll probably have to bend down quite a bit in a Mongolian get, whilst in a traditional yurt you may not have many problems after ducking in through the door.
The Mongolian nomadic people prefer to move as a family, and you will rarely see a large group of ger together. More often, it will be one family living in one ger and moving with their livestock. It is important than one area doesn’t get too crowded, otherwise the land would be destroyed by an overload of livestock and tents since land can only support a certain number of people.
The Mongolian people are also very considerate to the land that they use, and rarely let the grass die out. Instead they move on before this happens.
When the weather gets too cold, livestock will also be brought into the ger in order to warm up.
It is only during the Naadam festival that you will see many Mongolian ger gathering together.
Family roles in the Mongolian ger
Working together as a team is important for Mongolian nomad culture, and roles of the family are clearly defined, although everyone will help everyone in the end.
When setting up the ger, men will do the heavy lifting, and the ladies do the supporting.
The husband is responsible for regulating the temperature of the ger and general care during bad weather conditions. The husband will be in charge of general animal husbandry, and the wife is in charge of milking.
Women are seen as the head of the ger.
The young member of family will close and open the roof lid from with a rope, since they’re small and light enough to not compromise structure of the ger.
The grandparents' role is to look after the younger members of the family.
Setting up your Mongolian ger
The first thing you’ll need to gather together before setting up your ger is at least a friend or two. You can’t set up a Mongolian ger by yourself – and it’s probably best that you have at least two other helpers with you.
You’ll then need: wood beams (for the structure of the ger); felt (for the first insulation layer – this is often made from sheep's wool); animal skin or canvas for the outside layer (sometimes you will see ger that use plastic for the outside layer, but this isn't as good for waterproofing); and material for the ger's 'skirt', which offers rain protection.
Mongolian ger can be easily put up and taken down, which is why they are so popular amongst the many nomadic communities in Mongolia who move around three or four times per year. They can be taken down within half an hour minutes (if needed), but it generally takes a bit longer.
The furniture in a Mongolian ger is in a box design, that can easily be folded down into boxes for ease of transport. It is then loaded up onto a 4x4 or pick-up trucks to move to the next location. Traditionally, this was done by horses or yak on a sleigh.
Buying your Mongolian ger
A Mongolian ger can be bought for somewhere between $500-$600 USD, but this can go up massively depending on the materials used and how it is decorated. If you want to save some time and buy yourself a fully furnished ger, you’re looking at over $6,000 USD for your fully furnished Mongolian ger. Luxury!
The good thing is, if you look after your Mongolian ger correctly, it can stay in your family and be passed down for many years. A 70-year-old ger can still be in great condition, but may need a few repairs and replacements over the years.
Mongolian people are very eco-minded and don’t like to throw things away, but instead live with what they have and like to repair instead of replace. There's not much else you can do but recycle when you in the middle of the Gobi desert.
Beating the elements in a Mongolian ger
What if it rains?
A Mongolian ger is not waterproof. When it rains, water is absorbed through canvas sitting against the felt. Because of the ger’s design, the water will fall down to the sides. To dry the ger after the rain, the family will open flat at the top and lift the skirt of the ger.
What if it snows?
If it snows heavily, snow can collect on the top and can cause the roof to fall in. This is then the role of the smallest child of the family, who will be sent to the top to scrape the snow from the roof. Of course, there will be the father or grandfather nearby to make sure they don’t fall!
Inside the Mongolian ger
You’ll never find two Mongolian ger that look the same inside. Each is decorated and furnished with its own characteristics. However, there are some things that are kept the same within every ger, mainly for practical and traditional reasons.
For example, the right hand side of the ger is generally the woman’s side, whilst the man’s side is on the left. With women being the ones providing the family with daily meals, this means the kitchen is located on the right hand side. This includes keeping certain items in the same spots for convenience and ease of access.
The spokes of the wood beams holding the ger together are also used for storage, and you’ll often find pouches hanging from them used to store bits and bobs in.
Does it get cold in the Mongolian ger?
It can get extremely cold in Mongolia. In fact, Ulan Bator, reaching lows of around -45 degrees Celsius, is the world’s coldest capital city.
So without central heating and hot water bottles, how do you keep warm?
This is all down to careful planning and the design of the Mongolian ger, especially in comparison to the traditional yurt.
The Mongolian ger design has a flat, low roof, which keeps the heat in. The fire will be kept on throughout the day, keeping a constant heat inside. Temperature is controlled by opening and closing the top flap. The fire is then turned off overnight, but the yurt remains warm having soaked up all that heat throughout the day.
Clothes worn to bed are very thick thermals, and blankets are also very thick and warm to keep you out of the cold.
Mornings before the fire has been started can be quite chilly – but it soon warms up!
Kindle for the fire is made with animal dung. The younger of the family goes out with a long handled fork and basket to collect it. It is then dried before being used.
How can I stay in a traditional Mongolian ger?
Staying in a Mongolian ger is something you definitely won’t forget on a first trip to Mongolia, and a great way to experience the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle.
Check out our Mongolia tours that all offer a stay in a Mongolian ger and get the authentic, ethical experience you’re searching for!
Run the Ice Marathon on Lake Khuvsgul for the Lake Khuvsgul Ice Marathon and Mongolian Reindeer Tour, or join us in summer for a bit of a warmer experience as we celebrate the Naadam Festival with the locals and away from the crowds.