Heard about yurt erection before? We had not thought much about the process, but then we came across a yurt camp in its construction-phase while horseback riding to Song Kul lake
in Kyrgyzstan. So we took the opportunity to document it, all for your pleasure!
Erecting a yurt is a pretty fast process: two hours, if you have many friends or neighbors helping. It starts with the walls, which are foldable and made out of wood without using a single nail.
Then follows the top: the heart of the yurt, which is so important to Kyrgyzstan that a stylized version is used in the country’s flag. This is also the most sensitive part of the erection process: if you get it wrong, the yurt will be unstable or might collapse. Better get it right. So for putting up the center, you send a strong guy who can hold the center stable and shout commands to the people attaching beams all around the periphery of the circle. The top also decides the size of the yurt. Big top with many holes equals big yurt, with many beams shining out from the center. The ones we’ve seen have abound 70 beams.
Now the tough part is done, and it’s time to start dressing the yurt. First, a layer of canvas for the walls. Then, the stuff that gives the yurts their typical fluffy white look. Like we have seen in Tibet, where nomads use yak hair to make their tents, the Kyrgyz also use the material they have in abundance: sheep wool. But unlike yak hair tents, which are woven and waterproof even though they are thin and almost see-through, the thick layers of felt made of sheep wool often get rips after long usage (a yurt lasts 5-6 years before it needs to be replaced). So these days, they are sometimes 'upgraded' with a layer of transparent plastic on the inside. A host where we stayed one night had covered the top of their kitchen-yurt with a sheet of transparent plastic, creating a window. Simple solutions to make life easier, as you normally need to close the top when it rains. This makes the yurt a very dark place, in our own experience. The sun doesn't always shine over Kyrgyzstan.
Last but not least: interior and decoration. Carpets, mattresses, ornaments, fantastic lamp creations, and in some cases two doors. Others just have a soft curtain that can be rolled up. Normally there is a low table in the center, for the constant tea drinking and bread eating, and a pile of bedding which is spread out on the floor to create nice and warm beds when nighttime comes. We were lucky to have a few layers of mattress and two or three blankets, as yurts are VERY cold places at night – at least if they happen to stand on 3,300 meters altitude.
Outside the yurt is usually a freestanding little wash basin with mirror, soap and running water (!), painted blue by some unspoken standard. A bit further away from the camp stands the toilet – a blue (again) shed above a hole in the ground. Basically, there’s all one could ask for. So now you know how to erect a yurt, and even how to survive in one. Just a final warning: if you’re unlucky, you will be invited to try the horse milk. But that’s another story.
Oh, but you might have one more question: what’s a yurt good for anyway, except for housing tired travelers? In Kyrgyzstan, they are used by the shepherds as camps during the summer months; May to September. It just makes it so much easier taking care of your cattle if you are right next to where all the good grasslands are. So, when sleeping in a yurt, expect to hear the sounds (no, the yurt isn’t very soundproof at all) of one or two donkeys, five to ten horses, a dozen or so cows, hundreds of sheep, and a few dogs keeping the other animals in position throughout the night.