What is a Mongolian Ger and Traditions?

January 11, 2024   22 Comments »

What is a Mongolian Ger and Traditions?

September 30, 2011 22 Comments »

One of my favorite things about traveling in Mongolia was going inside Mongolian gers. I’m not talking about a Mongolian ger camp that’s been modified for tourism, but a real family’s ger. I was fascinated at how whole families could live in the round structure with no walls. There was absolutely no privacy in a ger. However, there is an abundance of tradition and culture you’ll find in a ger, and that alone is enough reason to go visit Mongolia!

What is a Mongolian Ger?

Gers have been a distinctive feature of life in Central Asia for at least three thousand years.

A ger is our traditional round shaped dwelling that has been used since the Mongols started nomadic life with animal husbandry.

In essence – it’s their home. A Mongolian ger is portable, easily assembled and disassembled, and the most natural dwelling on earth.

mongolian ger
Mongolian families live in these nomadic tents across Mongolia

Is a Yurt Different Than a Ger

A Mongolian ger is mostly the same as a Russian yurt. The main difference is the way the roof is made. The Mongolian ger has a crown that is supported by the two poles in the middle of the tent with wood spokes coming out from the crown. While yurt roofs are more pointed typically as they normally don’t have as big of a crown in the middle and the crown isn’t supported by poles.

Most people use the terms interchangeably; depending on where they are. Yurt is used more in the western parts of Central Asia. While the term ger is used mainly in Mongolia.

The less steep roof of a ger is useful in Mongolia where the winds howl across the steppe; it makes the structure more aerodynamic.

What is a Ger Made Out Of

The round structure is a fascinating lesson in physics. It consists of the crown, and wooden spokes coming from the crown that rests on the circular lattice wall. There are two wooden columns in the middle, where the stove sits. The lattice walls are attached together with animal hide and ropes. The walls are wrapped in felt for insulation.

The walls join together at the wooden door. There is only one door and no windows. Doors normally are intricately painted in orange or blue and they are always facing south.

ger door
There is one door and no windows.  Doors normally are intricately painted in orange or blue
ger door
Ger Door

Mongolian Ger Traditions You Should Know Before you Go

Before you go inside a ger – there are a few things you need to know. Luckily Ger to Ger taught me all of this before I visited any local families, else I might have offended a few people unknowingly!

When entering a ger, always step left and walk through it clockwise. And never pass between the two central pillars – that is bad luck!

Be careful where you sit in a ger. Elders are supposed to sit towards the back of the ger opposite the door. Typically the right side of the ger is for women, and the left side of the ger is for men.

In most gers I visited there was one bed, normally the man of the household slept in the bed. Everyone else sleeps on the floor together in one big ‘puddle’! Often large families will all live in one small ger.

Always bring a gift with you to a ger and accept any gifts or things they give you with your right hand.

Read all about my 2 Weeks Traveling Mongolia with Ger to Ger

How do People Live in a Ger?

The whole family lives/sleeps/eats inside the tent with no privacy.  There are no walls or places to escape to. There is no plumbing or electricity. However, many of the gers I went to had solar panels so they were able to get power to charge phones, and lights and a few actually had a TV!

mongolian ger with a tv

The family and extended family often sleep with big blankets on the floor at night and then roll them up in the morning and cook their meals in the same place.

inside a mongolian ger
Inside a Mongolian Ger

This way to live with absolutely no privacy is some unusual for people like me who are used to homes with walls and doors. I was enthralled with how the families did it.

Heating and Cooling a Ger

Each ger has a stove in the middle with a ‘chimney’ poking out of the top. This stove serves as a heat source and a kitchen. If they want to cool the ger down, they simply roll up the felt at the bottom and let the air blow through the bottom of the ger cooling it immediately! It’s amazing how fast the tent cools and heats.

mongolian ger
Each ger has a stove in the middle with a ‘chimney’ poking out of the top

Moving a Ger

Often families will set up their gers close together and a family will all live within a few km of each other as they all rely on each other in the harsh environment they live in.

Since most Mongolian families are nomadic, two or three times a year the family takes down the ger, places everything they own on a truck and moves about 5 to 13 km, and sets up the tent again.  They told me that it takes about 30 to 60 minutes to take down the ger. And a little longer to set up.

This used to be done on Mongolian horses, but with trucks, and motorbikes, it does make the process a little easier. As I traveled throughout Mongolia I ran into numerous families moving their gers. I was always tickled to think that everything they owned fit on a big truck.

moving a ger mongol
Two or three times a year the family takes down the ger, places everything they own on a truck and moves about 5 to 13 km, and sets up the tent again.
Moving a ger.s by tractor
Moving a ger by tractor

What is a Ger Camp

A ger camp is where most tourists stay when they head into rural Mongolia. It’s a collection of gers set up like a lodge. You’ll have a bed in your ger and some chairs – western world comforts. There is often a shared ger to eat in with a table and chairs, and there is a shared bathroom/shower ger area too.

Define Gers camp

These ger camps are meant to give visitors an idea of what it’s really like to stay in a ger, yet they have amenities that most tourists are used to. They are a perfectly fine place to stay, however, I felt I was able to get a much more authentic experience with Ger to Ger where I stayed with local families.

Mongolian ger definition Mongolia
The gers are always white and made of felt and cloth
mongol ger
The whole family lives/sleeps/eats inside the tent with no privacy

And that, my dear readers,  is what a Mongolian ger is all about!

Would you like to stay in a Mongolian ger someday?


Mongolian Ger culture

Back to Blog

22 Responses to "What is a Mongolian Ger and Traditions?"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Back to Blog