Mongolian gers have been an intrinsic part of Mongolian culture for thousands of years. Yet rather than simply a relic of former times, Mongolian gers are still very much a part of modern-day living.
Even today, more than half of the Mongolian population continues to live in gers. This includes 60% of people who live in the capital Ulaanbataar, who set up their gers in specific designated quarters within the city for the purpose, and a whopping 90% of people who live in the countryside.
If you head to the interior of the country, which you absolutely should, you will almost definitely stay in a ger. With ger life spanning centuries and centuries, this Mongolian dwelling is full of symbolism and traditions, and while it may not be possible to observe every last one, it is important to understand at least some basic etiquette.
A Mongolian ger is a circular, domed tent-like dwelling. It is often referred to as temporary housing because gers are regularly moved, however, while they may be temporary in terms of location, they are the permanent accommodation type for a vast percentage of the population.
Basically, these dwellings are a yurt in most of Central Asia. What you do need to know, however, is that in Mongolia it is always called a ger, never a yurt. In fact, ger means 'house' or 'home' in the Mongolian language - another indication of just how integral ger life is for the Mongolian people.
If you call it a yurt in Mongolia, you may be corrected. And a good way to show your effort to understand Mongolian customs, especially related to this fundamental part of daily life, is to call it by its correct name.
Mongolian gers are the perfect design for weathering the steppe biome, the flat, grassy and mostly tree-less, semi-arid expanses of the Mongolian interior. This topography means that there is very little in the way of windbreaks, and temperatures can be extreme - the sun intense during the day and nights freezing, with snow in the winter.
The circular shape also makes Mongolian gers very easy to heat and cool. There is a fireplace in the middle for heating and cooking, and when the fire's going the tent becomes a toasty haven out of the elements.
When the ger needs to be cooled, you simply roll up the outer layers of the tent a little to create a gap between the ground and the walls, and warm air very quickly escapes. It is therefore suitable for both hot and cold conditions.
A fundamental reason Mongolian people live in gers is because of their portability. Mongolians are a nomadic people and they usually move their gers two or three times a year, based on seasonal and climactic changes, and the needs of their herds.