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Goats On The Road By
Posted 05 Aug, 2014 | 16 Comments
Posted in: Mongolia, Newsletter 2, Travel Blogs

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.

mongolian ger
Making a Ger: the center columns and lattice work, putting the wooden rods into place & stretching the fabric over the walls

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.

building a mongolian ger
A way of tightly rolling sheep’s wool and felt together to make insulation

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.

mongolian ger
Cheese drying on the roof rods

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!

mongolian food in ger
Make sure to sample everything you’re offered!

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:

The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Mongolia

Guide to Independent Trekking in Mongolia

Backpacker’s Guide to a Gobi Desert Tour

Do you think you could live a nomadic lifestyle like the Mongolians?! Leave a comment below.

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The Mongolian Ger – All You Need to Know

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16 thoughts on “The Mongolian Ger – All You Need to Know (With Video)

  1. I had no idea there was so much to know before entering a ger! I would especially have trouble not crossing my legs – I ALWAYS cross them, sitting on the floor or in a chair.

  2. I know! There are sooo many rules and customs to follow. But honestly after entering a few gers, you get the hang of things. It’s such an honour to be invited into a local’s ger, amazing experience 🙂

  3. I have been looking at these for years, trying to figure out exactly where to put my future ger. Turns out I didn’t exactly know proper etiquette- thank you for the info that I plan on using one of these days!

  4. That’s a great post. I had no idea there was so much to a Ger, but yeah, I do see what you are saying… Extremely practical AND you can dry cheese on your ceiling. I’ve been totally missing out!

  5. An important point I found was to be prepared for copious amounts of vodka-the men that is. My ex wife enjoyed vodka but to her dismay the small bowl that’s passed from person to person went to the women just once while
    myself and the other men continued on all evening and night! On a serious note, if you are given control of the bowl, pay attention to the order of who gets it and do not change that order-I was entrusted with handing out the drinks and when I changed the pattern it was like someone had died in the ger-a disaster!

  6. Oh no!! A disaster indeed 🙂 That’s too funny that your ex wanted more of the vodka. Personally, Dariece was happy to have it handed to her less often. The customs and rules in Mongolia are so interesting.

    Thank you for the comment.

  7. I have lived in Mongolia now for 6 years, I am married here, go hunting deep in the countryside quite often and I would like to add:
    1. Mongolians are quite forgiving if do not know their customs, like sitting with your back to the altar or on the “wrong side” or walking counter-clockwise and other small things.
    2. BUT, there are a few things that you MUST not forget:
    a. Never point the bottom of your feet towards a person.
    b. Always accept anything and everything that you are given, but there is no obligation that you must eat or drink it. Sampling the food is the polite thing to do but if you are scared of the milk or don’t drink alcohol, just put the cup on lips without drinking and nobody will be offended.
    c. Roll down your sleeves before taking or giving something, or before being introduced to an older person.
    d. Hold a cup by the bottom, not by the top rim.
    e. If you step on, kick or touch someone else’s foot, offer them a quick handshake.
    f. Do not throw any trash or litter into the fire. This is disrespectful to the fire. Put the trash into the fuel bin or the metal pan in front of the stove. It will be saved to start the next fire. ‘Trash’ is transformed into ‘fuel’ by this brief stop in the fuel bin.
    g. Always hand a knife over by the handle, never the blade. (This is also a German custom).

    Some of my Mongolian relatives told me that they some rude foreign visitors who said their ger was dirty and that they couldn’t eat the food. I have never gotten stomach trouble in the countryside since the food is always well cooked. In UB, I have to be careful because of non-existent food hygiene!

  8. Hi Robert. Thanks for the comment. Living in Mongolia for 6 years?! Wow. We loved Mongolia and you’re right, there are so many quirks and customs to be aware of. I knew all of these except for the one about the knife – good to know. Enjoy Mongolia!

  9. Very cool video!! 🙂

    The only thing I am wondering is, where do people sleep? (I didn’t see any bedding, do they unroll it each night sort of like a sleeping bag?)

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