22 September 2005


By special request, today’s topic is yurts, or gers as they are known in Mongolia. The photo here is a ger that is partially set up, but a yurt is fairly similar to a ger. This photo was taken in Idaho while my husband's class attempted to set it up. The tunduk is the central circular frame and is represented on the Kyrgyz flag. The trellis wall is called the kerege, and the poles are kanats. Once all the poles are in places, the walls are lined with woven reed mats, then covered with layers of felt. A yurt requires 3 hours to put up (if the people are experienced- this yurt my husband's students tried to set up hadn't gotten very far in 2 hours with a number of people helping). The right hand side is for women, the left for men.

Yurts often evoke a rather romantic feeling, but this poem by Aaly Tokombayev (a Kyrgyz poet) is brutally honest about the realities of living in a yurt:

How can they breathe in smoke so thick?
How keep together body and soul?
The young housewife takes a stick
To open the chimney hole.
In vain- the wind drives back the smoke,
Tears blanket up our smarting eyes.
And what a cough! More troubles here
Than anyone can realise.
The wind, run amok, tears the felt
With all its ever-growing strength.
Like the eagle's wings, the tatters flap
As if to fly away at length.
To keep the yurta from crashing down
We go and prop it up with poles.
The guests extend their freezing hands
To warm them at the hearth, poor souls.

The Manas epic is more positive:

Look at her beauty! White as snow she was.
Made not from felt, but from cloth.
Trellised wall varnished was.
And a mat, made from chij
Was with silk braided.
Ropes round the yurta
Of quaint beauty were.
When Manas came in the yurta
By luxury and beauty he was
Deeply surprised.


  1. Kind of makes me really grateful for four walls and a roof and central heating. Must be hard in winter to live in a yurt.

  2. We have looked at modrenized Yurts to put on our property in Arizona. We haven't completely ruled them out and find them very useful for small housing for multiple units of people. Good story.

  3. I'd like to have a yurt when we get back. But we'd skip the fire inside.

    I was reading a book about Mongolia that said that even though many people living in cities don't live in gers, they still have them. They consider them to be warmer than a concrete building, but they want to save the gers in case they ever need them.

  4. Very neat. Thank you for the photo!

  5. My #1 and his wife were considering a yurt as temporary housing while a more permanemt house could be built. Some of the web sites make them very appealing!

  6. Neat post Amira. We have friends in Oregon that have a resort with yurt accomodations. We've always thought it would be a fun experience.

    SOTW 2 has an activity where kids can build a mini yurt (in the Mongolian unit). Ours was a small design that used straws for the frame. We then covered the frame with felt pieces. We had fun with that one.

    I enjoyed the link to the Fulbright Scholar's blog.