One of the most interesting parts about travelling in Mongolia is the fact that the people living there are nomadic and the land is all Crown owned! Locals (and travellers) can spend the night, or live, wherever they want, for free. The country of Mongolia is basically one big campground.
The local people live in homes called gers (other countries call it a yurt). This round, traditional home is made in layers. Wooden lattice-work forms the walls and is the main frame of the home. Two support beams are in the center of the ger with a round piece of wood on top (essentially, the roof). Wooden rods are put in place around the top of the lattice-work and are attached to the round piece of wood. All of this forms the frame of the ger.
Sheep wool is pulled and stretched to make a thick fabric to cover the lattice-work, sometimes more than one layer of wool is used for insulation. Lastly, a white canvas is wrapped tightly around the entire structure, forming the outside layer.
Sound confusing?! Make sure to check out the video below of a ger being set-up.
Not only is a Mongolian ger practical (it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer), but the people are able to set them up and take them down in about an hour! We were lucky enough to randomly see a family putting together a ger out on the steppe during our Gobi Desert Tour.
Now that you know what a ger is, it’s time to lay out the rules of entering and being inside of one! There’s so much to think about…
1. There is no need to knock on a ger door (even if it’s closed), you can just go ahead and enter.
2. Do not step on the wooden threshold at the entrance.
3. Walk clock-wise when entering. The west part of the ger is for guests, the north is for an honoured guest or elder and the east is where the family will sit.
4. Never lean on the inside support beams.
5. Never pass through the support beams.
6. Don’t walk over food.
7. Don’t put paper or garbage into the burning stove. Fire is considered sacred.
8. Don’t walk over anyone’s legs.
9. The door always faces South.
10. The roof is never fully closed, part of the canvas will always remain open.
11. Never enter a ger with a horse whip or anything that may be considered a weapon.
12. Don’t point your feet at anyone.
13. Women never sit cross-legged in a ger.
14. Never stand with your back to an elder, or to the altar (except when leaving).
15. Don’t whistle inside of a ger, or other buildings.
16. Always accept food with your right hand, while your left hand supports the right elbow. Alternatively, accept food with two hands.
17. Out of politeness, always sample the food that you are offered, no matter how unappetizing it may look!
This may seem like a lot of rules and you’ll probably feel very overwhelmed at first, but over time, you won’t even think about the dos and don’ts, it’ll just come naturally. If you’re planning to travel to Mongolia, definitely include a trip to the Gobi Desert. That’s a great place to learn about how these nomads live, and have impromptu encounters with the local people.
Don’t Miss Our Cool Mongolian Ger Video!
Mongolian culture, its quirks and its people are so fascinating! Learning about the customs of this great country will definitely be a highlight of your trip.
For more about this interesting nation, check out:
Do you think you could live a nomadic lifestyle like the Mongolians?! Leave a comment below.
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