If you are ever in Mongolia, you should not pass up a chance to stay in Mongolian gers. It is a powerful experience that will cause you to throw your definition of home and comfort out the window.
I was lucky enough to take a four-night/five-day tour through the Gobi Desert from Ulaanbaatar during my stay in Mongolia. I spent four of those nights in Mongolian gers. It was incredible to experience traditional Mongolian life in the welcoming homes of a truly nomadic people.
First things first, what is a ger?
Mongolian gers are the moveable homes of people who maintain a nomadic lifestyle. It is a white or gray tent made from animal skin or felt. The frame is wood that is orange with intricate designs on it.
This Mongolian home is easy to dismantle. People pack the pieces onto the backs of horses or camels and move it to a new location. It is moved throughout the year as the seasons change or as animal herds require better grazing lands.
Gers often have the same accessories that you can find in modern life. Many of them have solar panels on the roof. These collect energy to power lights, refrigerators, televisions, and sometimes cellphones even in the remote parts of the country.
Even if a ger camp has electricity and lights, it would be wise to bring a flashlight with you.
The Mongolian nights are black.
Staying in a ger camp
It seems that anyone who travels outside Ulaanbaatar will stay in a visitor ger camp. These camps usually consist of a cluster of gers and a larger more central ger in which meals are prepared and served.
The level of luxury of the ger depends on the budget of each traveller. While I wouldn’t expect to find any five-star ger camps, how much you spend on your tour may determine whether there is a shower or a generator.
I did a budget tour, so none of the camps I stayed at had showers or electricity. I have no shame in the fact that I didn’t shower during the whole trip.
Thankfully, at least they all had a toilet with four walls and a roof. Most toilets on the journey were a hole in the ground with two pieces of wood to stand on, three waist-high walls, and no door.
You shouldn’t have to worry about bedding. It is part of the tour. However, make sure you have several layers of warm clothes to sleep in, as the temperature drops very low during the night.
Apparently, some more expensive ger camps provide cultural performances, including throat singing. Unfortunately, I did not get to experience this as part of my tour. I wish I could have.
Inside a ger
Mongolian gers all have one door on them that faces south. This is to get the most sunlight. The door is short, so you will have to duck to get inside.
Once inside, you should be able to stand upright in the centre area. The ceiling will slope down toward the walls. But it’s no big deal because beds are lined along the outer walls, so you will just sit or lay down.
In the centre of the ger is often a wood-burning stove. It serves as a heater and also a small cooking stove for tea or things. There’s a table in the middle.
Even if you are visiting Mongolia in the summer when the sun is hot, its gets very cold at night. You will be thankful for this heater as soon as the sun starts to go down.
In the centre of the ceiling is a small hole for the chimney pipe from the wood stove to go out. The outer roof also has an extra flap of skin/felt that is opened to reveal a bigger hole. This creates a lovely window and makes the ger bright and warm inside.
The orange pieces of wood are pretty:
There will probably also be a portrait of Genghis Khan, who is beloved by Mongolian people.
A glimpse into the life of a nomadic people
In case you were wondering, it is possible to live so far away from the everyday things we take for granted – shops, entertainment, fresh produce, etc. But spending time in a ger, you will see that life is quite comfortable, and people have everything they need.
Since, people move their gers approximately four times a year, everything they have is packed on the backs of camels and horses (or motorcycles and vans). You quickly realize that that it’s possible to live without a closet full of clothes or ten pairs of shoes.
When you arrive, the hosts of the ger camp will greet you and quickly present you with some food.
Because of the nomadic lifestyle, much of the diet is meat and dairy products. There are very little fresh fruits and vegetables because the lifestyle is not suitable to agriculture.
A common drink is fermented mares milk. There are also dried milk curds and cheeses that people eat or sell in markets. These products are hard to bite and may be outside the zone of what you consider delicious.
In the morning, people collect milk from sheep, goats, or horses. If you are nice, the hosts will let you try your hand at this.
Spending time in Mongolian gers is great way to get a first-hand look into the lives of these nomadic people. The hospitality of those not affiliated with a ger camp surprised me.
Let me share a little story:
About halfway through our trip, I ate a moldy potato. This gave me got a nasty case of food poisoning. I ate the dumpling the night before thinking, “something tastes bad.” I downed it anyway so as not to be rude.
The next morning, I had terrible stomach pains, I could feel a fever coming on, and I had many unpleasant trips to the wooden toilet. Thankful that we would be leaving that day. Nevertheless, I worried about the bumpy drive through the desert. I packed up and got into the van in daze.
Needless to say, the car ride did not my upset stomach pains and worsening fever.
Around lunch time, we stopped. I fell out of the van to find four gers, a family, and their mares.
This was not a regular ger camp either.
It was a regular, everyday, family, just doing their thing on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
But they were incredibly hospitable. They welcomed us into their ger. The parents (?) prepared gave us some curds and drinks while the children snuck around peaking at us.
Regretfully, I was feeling much too ill to appreciate everything at the time. I immediately flopped down on a bed and held my stomach.The many interesting smells of a desert mattress filled my nostrils.
Despite my discomfort, the family was surprisingly welcoming to a group of foreigners randomly showing up at their ger-step. And this left such a positive impression on me. How nice that they would let these strangers into their home. They shared their food with us and let us flop down on their bed.
I wish that I could go back to these people, in my good health, and thank them for their kindness.
Have you stayed in Mongolian gers before? Have you ever experienced an overwhelming act of hospitality anywhere in the world?
I would like to hear about it in the comment section!
ALSO! I entered a photo contest!
On the recommendations of another Instagrammer, I submitted my photo of Mongolian gers. The contest is at Indy Guide, a travel website for Central Asian and Mongolia.
Please check it out on their website, and give it a vote (if you like it, that is)!
The prize is a GoPro!
This is the photo: