The mystery and magic of the ger*

ger*- is a Mongolian round house known as yurt in the West

The Edinburgh Festival. The Edinburgh Book Festival to be more specific. The book lovers wandering about, secretly eyeing everyone’s bag, checking who has which books by whom. The writers competing secretly about who has the longest queue for their book signing… Amongst all these a ger stands enjoying the discussions of these smart people, adding a magical touch into the atmosphere.

Nicola Morgan, a well-known writer of over 90 books wrote a piece about the Edinburgh festival yurt in The Guardian.  She talked about the yurt goes to Mongolia for the rest of the year.  So I tweeted and got in touch with Nicola, I even met her at the Society of Authors’ Conference in Edinburgh. It was a great pleasure to meet her and she mentioned that I grew up in a yurt during her talk. I was so touched by the article she wrote about Mongolia and the River Zavkhan. So I wanted to share a thing or two about famous Mongolian gers and the customs and rituals you might find interesting.

A ger is a traditional round house in Mongolia. It’s perfect for the nomadic lifestyle, easy to put together like a Lego and light to carry on camels and horses.

When I was little, I gradually learnt what I should and shouldn’t do as part of my culture. I assumed everybody knew it and I found it strange when my husband (then this beardy foreign man) did not know that stepping on the threshold was considered to be rude.

Now I look back and see the dos and the don’ts are there for a reason. Whether it’s health and safety or environmental reasons. They seem to be there everywhere not only with gers but also everything. There are certain rules living in a ger. Gers are erected facing south pointing towards the highest top of a mountain. When you enter a ger you shouldn’t step on the threshold. It’s like someone stepping on your toes. Once you are in a ger you go to the left side and sit near the stove. Only your host is allowed to sit opposite the door. The right side is for the host and the family. The stoves face the right side, easy to fuel and cook for the family without you getting in the way.

When you are offered tea, you should take the bowl with two hands. Mongolian traditional tea is different from the ones they drink nowadays. I grew up drinking tea with salt and milk, sometimes rice and dried meat in it.

Toono - The window on top of our ger

Toono - The window on top of our ger

Every autumn my parents padded our ger with more layers and put sand or dirt around our ger. So that in winter snow doesn’t come melting through the wall. Gers have only one round window called ‘toono’ on top. We would cover it up with a diamond-shaped felt or cloth with strings at each end. So in the mornings we would move the string facing south to the back opening the window letting some light into the ger. I remember sweeping snow off the ger roof when I was about five. I loved doing it as I was high up and could see what other families were doing.

In the spring time we would take off the extra layers and dry the ger letting fresh air between the felt covers. Yes, just like Nicola Morgan’s article we bathed and washed the ger covers in the River Zavkhan as well as drinking and watering our sheep, goats and cows.

Now I’m writing about my childhood which was spent in Khangai Mountains as part of my memoir in memory of my son Billy. So travel with me and enjoy my stories till the book is ready. Thank you.


One Response

  1. fascinating Uuganaa! i can picture a small you on the ger roof ruling her world. safe and creative journey home to you

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