Just like Mongolian Gers / Yurts represent Mongolian culture, heritage, and tradition, Kazakh and Kyrgyz Yurts also represent their own. Due to those differences in culture, location, and tradition, the three yurts have unique distinctions. Nevertheless, in terms of overall functionalities, they are quite similar. For example, all yurts are built to accommodate nomadic lifestyles. Therefore, they are portable, versatile, and resistant to the harsh weather of mountains and steppes.
It is said that Yurts have two main types: cone-shaped (for Mongols, Buryats, etc) and hemispherical (for Turkmens, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, etc.) Some say Yurts are divided into Mongolian and Turkish. Those different Yurts have developed their own special characteristics throughout history. Let’s look at the unique distinctions of Mongolian, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz Yurts below.
In Mongolian, Yurts are called “Ger” which means home/house Mongolian. It is said that Ger is originated from Mongolia, then spread through other areas because of the Mongol Empire. Ger is still one of the popular styles of housing as half of the citizens live in Ger. The two key components of Ger are a wooden frame and a felt cover. It usually takes 30 minutes to 3 hours to build the Ger and men mainly construct the Ger while women help.
The structure of the Ger is unique, but no so different from Kazakh and Kyrgyz Yurts. The main difference between Mongolian Ger and Yurts is the roof and support. While the roof of Ger is gently sloped and supported by two or more columns called bagana, the roof of Yurts is much higher and pointed. Most Kazakh or Kyrgyz Yurts are not supported by columns as well.
The Kazakhs call Yurts “kiyiz” which translates as a felted house. In Kazakh culture, certain parts of the yurt, and the yurt as a whole represent a concept of the universe. In addition, you will see many traditional Kazakh patterns on the exterior felt of the Ger. There are three main parts to traditional Kazakh Yurt. These are:
- Shanyrak – top of the Yurt (makes up the hole for the smoke)
- Kerege – latticework that makes up the wall
- Uwyk (or yuk / uuk) – carcass (poles that form a dome-like structure)
The construction of the Yurt is made from willow wood. Yurts have such importance to the Kazakh people that Shanyrak is depicted on the National Emblem of Kazakhstan. While usually men of the household build their Ger in Mongolia, Yurt construction is generally done by women in Kazakhstan.
In Kyrgyzstan, the yurt is referred to as “Booz Yi” which translates as a grey house. Kyrgyz Yurts have many similarities with Kazakh Yurts as they are both considered Turkish or hemispherical types of Yurts. The main material that makes up the vertical walls in Kyrgyz Yurts is cupola birch poles. Just like the other two Yurts, they are tied to the latticework to form the wall.
At the top of the Yurt (roof), there is a wooden circle called a tunduk. A small flap of felt covers the tunduk and opened when the weather is nice. The smoke from the fire stove comes out through the tunduk as well. The tunduk is an important symbol, therefore it is demonstrated on the Kyrgyzstan flag. In Mongolian and Kazakh Yurts, the right side is considered as the men’s side and the left is the women’s side. On the contrary, the left side is considered men’s while the right is the women’s in Kyrgyz Yurts.
Apart from fundamental differences and special characteristics, you will also find small differences in interior design. Mongolian, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz Yurts feature their unique traditional patterns as wood carvings, drawings, carpets, embroideries, and so on. They are mainly related to the wonders of nature surrounding, the universe, and the simple lives of nomads. It is crucial to visit Yurts of the specific countries to introduce yourself to the tradition and culture.