Is there a time when you wish you could simply leave behind the trappings of the western world and escape somewhere for a simpler life? Most of us have wondered at one point or another just what it would be like to live in a different part of the world and escape the rat race, although living in a jurte in Mongolia may not be something that instantly springs to mind.

What Is a Jurte?

A jurte is also referred to as a yurt or – in Mongolia – as a ‘ger’. These are tents which are lined with felt and which are a common sight across Mongolia. Those who live in the countryside and perhaps work as herders will have a jurte as their home although there are many who live in the towns who still choose a jurte as their main residence. When a family member is married they are given the jurte as a gift and this is either bought or built for them. As a portable home, it is ideal for families that need to be on the move.

The walls of the jurte are created from lattice work and this holds up the roof poles. The lattice work is then covered with a felt-lined covering and the jurte is always positioned so that the door opens to the south. For colder weather more layers of felt can be added to the covering and heating is provided by a stove. Everything is held in place with ropes.

A Simple Life With Modern Technology

This lifestyle still has some of the advantages of the modern world. Families do not necessarily live without electricity as some have their own generator operated by wind power and those with satellite dishes can catch up on the latest TV shows, even if the jurte has been constructed in the middle of the desert. This is not to say that all Mongolians have discovered modern technology, but an increasing number are choosing to add it to their lives.

Moving on? A jurte can be packed up onto the back of a truck in less than an hour and then simply shifted to the new location. Life in a jurte can be tried at one of the tourist camps which have begun to appear in the country. These offer the lifestyle of a jurte for a short period of time so those who visit the country can get a real sense of the lifestyle of the local people.

Inside a Jurte

The jurtes are deceptively spacious. They seem small from the outside but the interior offers plenty of space for a family. The stove is usually in the centre of the jurte and the furniture is laid out in the same way in each one. The kitchen will always be on the right of the door and there will be an altar at the back which has beds either side. It is important to remember that the seating arrangements have a hierarchy in a Mongolian jurte. Special guests are given the seats furthest away from the door and those closest to the door will be guests that are not as important. The family will often sit on the right hand side.

The altar is an essential part of living in a jurte. Most Mongolians practise Buddhism and this would face the door. The beds are arranged so that each inhabitant will have their heads pointing towards the altar. Some Mongolians are Muslim though and in this case their beds will be arranged so that their heads point south, in the direction of Mecca.

There are also divisions within the jurte according to the sexes. Men will sleep on the western side of the altar and this is where their belongings will be. Women will be on the eastern side, where the kitchen is also found.

Why a Jurte?

The main benefit to living in a jurte is the portability of it. They take next to no time to assemble and dismantle and its ability to withstand the elements. While the structure may look a little flimsy, they are able to deal with a strong amount of wind and rain and they are surprisingly easy to heat. Those who choose to buy the frames instead of building their own may find that it lasts for up to 70 years and the canvas coverings are often guaranteed for around 15 years.

The jurte is also much more environmentally friendly than modern homes as most of the materials used can be recycled and very little trace of the structure is left when it is moved from one place to another. Some jurte owners choose to have doors that lock for a little extra security and they can be easily placed among trees or shrubs for additional privacy and protection from the elements.

The jurte has been designed to meet the needs of the Mongolians and the basic design has changed little over the years and while it is a very practical item there is still symbolism in each part of it. The opening at the top of the jurte represented the sun and gave the inhabitants access to the world above it. Putting the fireplace in the centre was representative of the world below. The stove in the jurte is a representation of the five basic elements of water, metal, wood, fire and earth.

Visiting a Jurte

Visiting a Mongolian jurte involves a number of traditional rituals. Visitors need to remember never to step on the jurte’s threshold as they enter then home and then they will face a number of questions. They there is the ritual of three glasses of arak – a distilled spirit which has been created from fermented mare’s milk. This is a drink which is definitely an acquired taste as when it is cool it has a strong aroma which leaves you in no doubt as to its origins. Once inside the jurte, remember you should never point your feet at the fire and whistling is strictly prohibited!


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