From luxury accommodations to real-world portable homes, the yurt (or ger as it is known in Mongolia) has provided shelter and a sustainable way of life for thousands of years. While the construction materials may differ from those used here in the United States, the shape and suitability of these portable structures are very similar to the one in which we recently stayed.
Several years ago, Julie Stoll and her daughter Jean had the opportunity of a lifetime, traveling and experiencing a bit of the nomadic life on a visit to Mongolia. While there, they visited with camel herders and sheep shearers, seeing a way of life that included solar panels and satellite dish antennas as a means to stay connected with the rest of the world. Modern technology accompanies these families as they travel across the vast landscapes of their homeland, carrying their homes with them.
I spoke with Julie via Zoom this week as we both shared our “glamping tent experience”, her’s at the Gorkhi-Terkel National Park in Mongolia, mine at the Savage River Lodge in western Maryland. Separated by thousands of miles and different cultures, these structures are essentially the same: a cylindrical tent featuring a conical roof, either with a central tent pole in large structures, or without one in the smaller tents. But interior furnishings, decoration, and even the presence (or absence in their case) of windows puts them worlds apart.
The Gers are round enclosures made from wood and wool felt, usually hand made by the family. A central hole in the roof allows both light in and smoke from the cooking stove to vent. Whether lavishly decorated, with embroidered fabrics and bed quilts, or the more rustic homes with small wood burning stoves for heat, these structures all have a single door and no windows. The wood latticework supporting the walls help to make the entire construction easily collapsible for transport. Rugs cover the interior floor and allow seating anywhere.
Traveling for a couple of weeks in this remote country, there were many cultural events to experience. Julie had hoped to attend the Naadam Festival in Mongolia. The popular festival showcases traditional sports including wrestling, horseracing, and archery. Julie and Jean were able to attend a local event during their stay and saw much of the athletic ability for which the Mongolian people are known. A performance of throat singing made a great impression on these two.
The Smithsonian website has an informative write up on this mysterious vocal technique. Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music. For those who think the human voice can produce only one note at a time, the resonant harmonies of throat-singing are surprising. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics.
Our yurt was made with vinyl covered canvas, had hardwood floors and radiant heat, a tiled bathroom, two doors, windows and air conditioning. The gers Julie experienced were designed for portability, one door, few furnishings, a small wooden stove for heating and cooking. Yet it’s a remarkable aspect of adaptability that the same structure, with only slight modifications, has become a popular and trendy vacation option here in the States. There is a lot to be said for that type of design simplicity.
All photos courtesy Julie Stoll. Julie reports that they traveled with Dream Mongolia (dreammongolia.com). Private tours…they organized great guides and accommodations. Julie and I first met when we taught ESL at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA a number of years ago.