Photo Documentary – The Hills of Gongnaisi, home of the Mongols
Mongol Autonomous Prefecture and the story behind the Yurt
Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, often abbreviated to Bayingol (literally “rich river”), is an autonomous prefecture of the People’s Republic of China. It is the largest autonomous prefecture of China with an area of 462,700 km². The prefectural capital is Korla. According to the 2000 census, Bayingolin has 1,056,970 inhabitants, of which only 4% is of Mongol ethnicity (population density: 2.28 per km²).
The Yurt or Ger
A yurt is a portable, bent wood-framed dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. The structure comprises a crown or compression wheel (tüýnük) usually steam bent, supported by roof ribs which are bent down at the end where they meet the lattice wall (again steam bent). The top of the wall is prevented from spreading by means of a tension band which opposes the force of the roof ribs. The structure is usually covered by layers of fabric and sheep’s wool felt for insulation and weatherproofing.
Traditional yurts consist of an expanding wooden circular frame carrying a felt cover. The felt is made from the wool of the flocks of sheep that accompany the pastoralists. The timber to make the external structure is not to be found on the treeless steppes, and must be obtained by trade in the valleys below.
The frame consists of one or more expanding lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, bent roof poles and a crown. The Mongolian Ger has one or more columns to support the crown and straight roof poles. The (self-supporting) wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers. The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof. They vary with different sizes, and relative weight.
A yurt is designed to be dismantled and the parts carried compactly on camels or yaks to be rebuilt on another site. Complete construction takes around 2 hours depending on the design.
The design of the Mongolian Ger developed from its ancient simple forms to actively integrate with Buddhist culture. The crown—toono adopted the shape of Dharmachakra. The earlier style of toono, nowadays more readily found in Central Asian yurts, is called in Mongolia “sarkhinag toono” while the toono representing Buddhist dharmachakra is called “khorlo” (Tibetan འཀོར་ལོ།) toono. Also the shapes, colors and ornaments of the wooden elements—toono, pillars and poles of the Mongolian yurt are in accord with the artistic style found in Buddhist monasteries of Mongolia. Such yurts are called “uyangiin ger” — literally meaning “home of lyrics” or “home of melodies”