Yurts – or gers depending where you are – have been a vital part of life on the vast steppes of Central Asia for millennia. Developed in a way that allowed for relatively quick construction and deconstruction – usually no more than a couple of hours - these portable homes have been an essential part of nomadic life which continues to the modern day. They enabled the nomadic people to travel quickly and easily over the grassy steppes with their livestock.
While travelling with Wild Frontiers as part of our Kyrgyzstan Explorer tour earlier this year, I spent several days living and sleeping in yurt camps, that were set within some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the world. Particularly. memorable was the time spent in yurts at the old caravanserai at Tash Rabat, among the 'Mountains of Heaven', and by the shores of Son Kul a picturesque mountain lake.
Temperatures on the steppe can vary greatly season to season, and even day to night, with the mercury often plummeting far below zero after sunset. You might imagine that this makes sleeping in a yurt far from an enjoyable experience; perhaps conjuring up cold, damp mornings while camping in tents as a child? Fortunately, the reality is much different - after all yurts may be portable but they are portable homes and are designed to be comfortable.
After a day of trekking or horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s amazing scenery, we would head over to the dinner yurt for a delicious evening meal of bread, salads, soup and other hearty fare. While this was happening, members of the family who run the camp come around to each yurt to stoke the old cast iron heaters. So, while we were enjoying our meal, these heaters were making our yurts warm and cosy, a fantastic defence against the freezing nights.
Following our leisurely stroll back from dinner, including some time gazing up at the unveiled night sky – something of a rarity for someone who lives in London - and stepping inside our yurts was a welcome feeling. Crawling into our beds, already layered with brightly decorated blankets, and knowing that outside frost was already starting to form was a very enjoyable feeling.
Yurts are a quintessential part of Central Asian culture and anyone visiting these countries should try to squeeze in at least a bit of time sampling the rustic luxury of the steppe.