My ger arrives on-site in Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia.
Last week I shared photos of buying my ger at the Narantuul Market in Ulaanbaatar. This week you’ll see it put up for the first time.
A few hours after all the shopping was done I caught the evening train down to Dalanjargalan Soum, where the Ikh Nart reserve headquarters is located. The reserve Director, Dr. Amgalanbaatar, was kind enough to let me stay overnight in the “dorm” room used for visitors. The next day he and I and Anand, a member of his staff, drove out to the set-up location in the reserve’s grey Russian fergon van. Shavka arrived with his truck and the unloading and set-up began.
I had been given a choice of three locations, all in the vicinity of local herders in case I needed assistance. I was in the reserve itself, but not in the Core Area where, other than the research camp that has been there since 2001, no camping is allowed. I liked this location the best.
Note: You can find a number of sites and videos about putting up a ger. Mine’s a little different, I believe, since it shows one being put up for the first time, so there are first time steps that you normally wouldn’t see.
Unloading everything. That’s the sink stand at the back.
Ger parts on the ground and the furniture coming out. That’s the headboard for the bed.
Some of the furniture, my felt bed pad and the stovepipe.
Anand pulling the traditional hand-braided horsehair ropes out a bag, which will go around the ger to hold the cover on. I’d specifically requested them instead of the, more common these days, cloth straps. It turned out that they were included in the ger “kit”.
The wall lattice (bagana) sections being unloaded. There are four of them, hence a “four wall ger”.
Ger parts being laid out on the ground. On the right are the felt cover pieces.
It took longer than usual for set-up since there were things that had to be done first, but that would not have to be done again, like threading loops of braided strands of horsehair through the ends of the roof poles and knotting them in place. I was put to work which was great but, never having done it before, had trouble getting the hang of how the knot was tied, so only managed one of the 82.
Horsehair thread looped through hole in roof pole.
In the meantime, Shavka trimmed and fastened onto the toono the sheet metal piece that would hold the stovepipe so that it would never come in contact with the wood.
Before the door was set in place Shavka fastened on the interior door handle. It’s toward the center so that when it’s open you can reach out to it to close the door without having to step out of the ger. Great when it suddenly starts to rain or the wind comes up.
Prep done! The first section of lattice (khana) is put in place.
Each section is tied together with sturdy cord.
The door (khalga) is set in place. The lattice didn’t come to the edge of the door the way Shavka wanted them to so he sawed off the ends of each lattice piece to fit. Another task that only needed to done once.
The toono is handed over the walls to be set up.
The toono is laid upside down on the ground and the vertical supports (bagana) are held in place flush, without slots, holes or other connectors.
The toono and bagana are tied together by lengths of the same cord that was used to tie the lattice wall sections to each other. And yes, I really love the decorative painting!
The toono/bagana combination is now held in place by two people while a few poles (uni) are added around the perimeter. The dark cloth band is what holds the door in place.
The horsehair loops in action, attaching the roof poles to the lattice sections.
It became clear within minutes of trying to insert the roof poles into the holes in the toono that the ends were too big. Amgaa, Shavka and Anand got out knives and took three or four large shavings off of each of the 82 poles.
Once the pole ends fitted the toono holes, the roof went on pretty quickly.
Shavka adjusts a roof pole. The exterior design on the door was different than any I’d seen before and I liked it.
The first part of the cover (tsavag) to go on was a light weight one that would be visible inside the ger.
The felt roof pieces (deever) go on. There’s definitely a technique one has to know to be able to flip a folded roof felt into place in one motion.
Roof felt on, wall felt (tuurga) almost on.
If you’ll remember from last week’s post a quantity of plastic sheeting was purchased. Here’s why. It’s a fast and inexpensive way to add rain protection since the felt will soak through if it rains hard enough (the voice of experience from a couple of occasions). We also got what the Mongols call “Russian canvas” with the ger, which is waterproof, but Shavka had wisely decided to use it as a layer between the ground and the sheet vinyl flooring. I bought the wood for him to make a sectional wood floor for me for next year.
The final step was the outer cover , held in place by two bands of the braided horsehair rope. Choi and his wife, were my “hosts”. They had their ger nearby, Here he is attaching the triangular top cover piece (urkh) which generally left open and pulled back but is closed when it rains. No glass or plexiglass in the toono openings. It was open to the sky, which is what I like.
And here’s my ger the next day, all set up. We started putting it up the day before around 5pm and finished at 10pm. I was moved in by 10:30. The yellow container on the right is one of two I bought so that my host could bring me well water via his motorbike.
All moved in. The big rock, along with three more on the outside are to keep the ger in place and stable in high winds. Gers are not otherwise fastened to the ground. No stakes. On the left is my water filter system, which consisted of a LifeStraw 5 liter gravity feed filter which emptied into the plastic container I bought at the market. The wonderful $9 teakettle sits on the one-burner gas cooktop which is on the stove. I love the quality of light in a ger as it comes through the roof.
The “kltchen” and dining side of the ger. A cabinet is on the list for next year, although the table does have a pull-out drawer where I put my flatware and utensils. Also note that the roof poles provide a useful place to put things like bags, towels and clothes.
My ger in its setting. On the right you can just see Choi’s ger, about a five minute walk. There was a rock formation between us, so I had visual privacy and could only see the natural landscape. I did have Choi’s goats and sheep coming by on a few evenings and that was pretty entertaining.
Sunset evening in Ikh Nart with my ger.
So how did it go, my week of living in my own ger for the first time? Really well. There was one very strong storm with heavy wind and rain that pulled part of the cover almost halfway off, but Choi and his wife fixed that the next morning. Wind blew a lot of dust in on the bottom on one side one afternoon, but putting up a section of the interior curtain (which hadn’t been done since there was no cord to string it up with, but I found a way to fake it) so that it fell onto the floor solved that problem. I used my cooktop for heating water for coffee in the morning and tea for visitors. I also had bansh (small meat dumplings used for soups) for dinner a couple of nights. I did a little laundry using the steel basins I’d bought and also managed a standing bath and hair wash.
Food storage became an issue and I lost some items, like a loaf of bread that turned moldy, due to lack of refrigeration. A small solar powered refrigerator with battery storage is on the list for next year. One often sees them in herder gers these days. I was happy with candlelight at night, so not really feeling the need for an “electric” light. My toilet was the great outdoors, which I’m used to, but it was a bit much for a week in one place. My current thought is to have a small vertical wall maikhan (the cloth summer tent) made with a divider down the middle. On one side would be a pit toilet with a seat and on the other a place to take a shower using a sun shower bag.
I slept well (I always do in a ger anyway) and found that I had, in fact, understood what was needed to do this to be happy and comfortable for a week or more. In the evenings I took one of the stools outside and put it close enough to the ger wall that I could sit with back support and watch the sun go down. A nice nip of Chinggis Gold vodka and some Ukrainian chocolate nougat candy (from Roshan, my favorite) and life was just about perfect.