Mongolians then & now
Cold. Windy. Empty
Think of Mongolia and I think of Genghis Khan. Steppes. The Gobi. Nomads. Horses. Bitter cold. Yurts. Everything in Mongolia is interlinked, the what why and when of yurts involves a whole way of life, a spiritual culture, an existence against the odds, a connection between land and sky, nature and man, that lead to the biggest empire the world has ever known.
Mongolia, an environment that is flat, large, harsh, sometimes cold, sometimes hot and with wind that will blow you off your horse. And the horse is the key. The Mongolian horse provides food (milk, blood), transport for trade, transport for war, and is ridden by the Mongol from the age of three, almost constantly. And the horse and the lifestyle on the Mongol steppe were constant too, unchanged for century after century. Considering the three basic elements for survival in this harsh environment; shelter, water and food, the ger (Mongolian name for yurt) is the ideal home for a nomadic people in such inhospitable territory.
Easily portable, easily adaptable, easy to erect, incredibly warm in winter, simple to ventilate in the hot summers, shaped to ignore the steppe winds, these dwellings allowed the Mongolians to live their nomadic life for centuries. And they still are the primary form of accommodation in Mongolia today, with more than 50% of the nations capital still inhabiting them.
Over the centuries there is a slight change in the roof shape (less rounded) and an outer decorative cover - until quite recently the outer layer was the felt. The greatest, and most deadly Mongolian was a former goat herder named Temujin, who was proclaimed "great leader of all those who live in the felt tents". You may recognise him more easily by translating great leader into Mongolian. Genghis Khan. Genghis went on to found the largest empire ever built, sweeping Chinese, Russian, European, Arabic, Asian armies before him usually with a far smaller force.
All the trappings of modern day life
Unlike other armies of this era, the Mongolian army did not halt it's campaigning because of the winter. It never seemed to pause for breath. No doubt this was assisted by its extremely portable yurts providing the ultimate shelter for the impossible conditions. A yurt can be quickly disassembled in minutes, strapped to the back of two to three ponies and on to the next meadow to graze, continent to conquer.
The ger's unique circular shape allows the wind to flow around and over the yurt, and actually pushes the yurt more firmly to the ground in particularly strong winds. The lattice walls come in sections and are tied together by horse hair rope. These are easily taken down and concertina into a flat pack. The central posts and crown are traditionally hand painted with Mongolian motifs, along with the poles that lie at an angle from the crown to the lattice walls. The layers consist of a cotton liner, thick felt layer which provides the insulation, and an outer canvas layer. A tension band of horse hair runs round the outside of the walls, securing the yurt.
The nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia, although still the largest in the world is under threat. Climate change has eroded the pastoral land available with the Gobi is expanding at a staggering rate of 1,390 miles ² per year. Harsher winters and poorer pasture is pushing the Mongolians to the cities, where tradtional skills are quickly lost in the suburbs.
However our yurts are still traditionally made by the Bataa family and their neighbours in Khujirt, Mongolia. The skills are divided amongst the families, with some specialising in woodwork, others paintwork, canvas, felt and so on. These have been passed on from generation to generation and continue to do so. Sustainability cannot be more relevant for such an amazing tradition of craftsmanship. That is why we plant twice as many trees in Mongolia for every yurt we make than it takes in the construction, and are proud to support such an incredbile way of life.