What are some of the traditions and history of building a Ger?
Great White Lake — Jargalant — Zuun Nuur — Khatgal — Lake Hovsgol — Mongolia 2014 Travel Journal
The Mongolians are extremely hospitable. They have a saying: “Happy is he whom guests frequent. Joyful is he at whose door guests’ horses are always tethered”
Travel Route: Great White Lake — Jargalant — Zuun Nuur — Khatgal — Lake Hovsgol
The nomadic people of Mongolia don’t stay in one place for long. That’s why they live in gers (which American’s know by the Russian name, yurt), a home that is fast and easy to assemble and disassemble. Putting up a ger (pronounced gair) is fast and easy, but its best done by an entire family and the tradition is that any stranger passing by is obligated to help, so when we encountered a family of herders setting up a temporary ger between their summer and autumn location, we joined.
The ger had a role in shaping Mongolian character and family life. The small confines prevent privacy but compels families to interact and to share everything. Life in a ger tightens the relationship between relatives. The first recorded description of the ger came nearly 2,500 years ago from Herodotus, the renowned ‘Father of History’ (the title first conferred on him by Cicero), in the first and fourth books of his acclaimed work The Histories. Herodotus described the Scythian race (approx. 600 B.C. to 300 A.D.), which lived a nomadic horseback existence, in and around the Central Asian region near the Black and Caspian seas. Prior to this no other written evidence has been compiled, though the recent discovery of a Bronze Age rock etching in Siberia may place the history of the ger even earlier.
Marco Polo recorded its extensive use between 1274 and 1291 A.D. during his stay within the Mongolian Empire. Founded by the legendary Chinggis Khaan (better known to Westerners as Genghis), who ruled from 1206–1227 A.D., the empire remains the largest contiguous empire in human history. Genghis Khan’s legendary ger, rumored to have been mounted on a wheeled cart pulled by 22 oxen, was guarded at all times by his forces.
The word ger is Mongolian and literally means “home.” For a long time, Mongolians chose the best day for the moving their home. It is not allowed to build on the base of others’ ger because there is a belief that which means getting all the bad things of latter home. There is a ritual sequence to building a ger. It is not allowed to start from whatever you want. Some of these traditions has to do with north — south directions, the door is always facing south, the auspicious direction. This is the side of the sunrise which help knowing the time and it is the side of most light and warmth. The stove fire is a central feature in the Ger. And when entering the Ger the custom is to always move clockwise.
There are things we can do or cannot do in Mongolian ger. The following are some of the Don’ts:
· Don’t stand on the threshold when entering the ger
· Don’t turn your back on the altar or the religious part of the ger
· Don’t whistle inside a ger
· Don’t lean against the pillars
Who was Baron Ungern-Sternberg?
To prepare myself for this trip I read, The Bloody White Baron — The Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer. Although I had never heard of him, I learned that in the history of the modern world, there have been few characters more sadistic, sinister, and deeply demented as Baron Ungern-Sternberg. An anti semitic fanatic with a penchant for Eastern mysticism and a hatred of communists, Baron Ungern-Sternberg took over Mongolia in 1920 with a ragtag force of White Russians, Siberians, Japanese, and native Mongolians. While tormenting friend and foe alike, he dreamed of assembling a horse-borne army with which he would retake communist controlled Moscow.
I found it peculiar that the epic saga of Baron Ungern-Sternberg, which ranges from Austria to the Mongolian’s steppe, is not mentioned at the National History Museum nor is he a topic of conversation Mongolians are eager to discuss.