Long before the RV was invented, the yurt, a round, felt-covered house used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia, was the ultimate mobile home. The structure is comprised of an angled assembly or latticework with pieces of wood for the walls, door frame and ribs and a wheel. The roof is usually self-supporting, but large yurts often have interior posts to prop the crown.
Is the yurt a modern dwelling? Is it still a necessary part of life, particularly in light of the international tiny house movement, downsizing the space where people live and focusing on smaller spaces and simplified living?
“As of today, yurts are usually used in different celebrations and holidays. We even have children’s yurts. People make orders for such small yurts when they celebrate birthdays of their children or, for example, the first birthday of a child. As you know, this is a very important event,” said Geld Company Director Nazira Shakayeva in a June 23 interview.
Yurts are available in all sizes and for all uses, she noted.
“Of course, we have big and very big yurts which are used for weddings and theme parties. Some companies rent them to make presentations in the national style for their foreign partners. So, I can definitely say that today the yurt is more a symbol than a really practical thing in big cities and small towns. It is our national symbol, the symbol of a nation which led a nomadic life and used mobile homes. Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Turkmen and Mongols had yurts, but all of the yurts of the peoples were a little bit different from each other. A Kyrgyz yurt is lower than a Kazakh one. A Mongolian yurt has more durable walls because of the strong winds in Mongolia,” added Shakayeva.
Yurts are still used by stock keepers who need to be on the move.
“Also, some people purchase them to install in their precincts. Usually they buy yurts without felt. That is, they buy only the carcass to use as a canvass or cookhouse. If you travel a lot, you know that yurts are used as kumyskhanas, a home where you can buy and drink kumys, or rent it for one night instead of a hotel.”
While Shakayeva noted the main advantages of yurts are mobility, low price, environmental friendliness and their ability to adjust to outside temperature by keeping the occupants warm in winter and cool in summer, not every benefit can be expressed verbally.
“Some things cannot be described by words. You should try to experience them. The same is true with a yurt. You know, everybody who has ever slept in a yurt says that it is something special. Really, I can say that you breathe in it in a different way,” she said.
The director is a real fan of this type of living. “I really don’t know any disadvantages of this mobile home. Of course, in winter it isn’t as warm as in comfortable apartments, but it is obvious. You should just wear more clothes,” she added.
Shakayeva prefers wooden yurts in contrast to those with metal carcasses which many people have begun using in the last few years.
“I don’t do that. I have a few of them, but I like wooden yurts. Ninety-nine percent of my yurts are wooden ones. I don’t like metal yurts, because I consider that they are not alive. I don’t feel that it is real. A wooden yurt is alive; it has its own special scent and I appreciate it.”
“I buy yurts only in Kazakhstan, in spite of the fact that Chinese yurts are very popular now.
A small yurt can be transported by any estate or SUV. A medium-sized yurt is transported using a small truck. Large yurts can be transported only by big trucks, because even the shanyrak (the arched, cross-shaped top of a yurt) has a diametre of five metres.”
Senbek Oshakbayev, who owns a company which manufactures yurts, noted production has significantly changed during the last few years due to the prohibition on the necessary hew tree.
“At that, we need at least 300 trees to produce one small yurt. That is why we use steel, which is much more durable and is very easy to store. The weight of a steel and wooden yurt is equal. Installation of a steel yurt is much easier and takes less time. Rain and storm don’t affect the metal carcass. Of course we would like to use lightweight aluminum, but it is too expensive,” he said.
Oshakbayev has designed new type of yurt and is soon hoping to secure a patent.
“A year ago, I executed all the necessary documents and now I am waiting for the patent. My design is constantly updated and has the appearance of a wooden yurt, but it is very firm and its assembly and disassembly are very easy and quick. Every assembled part of the yurt is very compact; you don’t need any bolts and screws at all for its assembly and disassembly,” he said.
He added the price of transportation is also reasonable.
“A good example: an assembled yurt is so compact that its transportation from Almaty to Astana by bus costs only 5,000 tenge (US$18.12). So, it means that you can send a mobile home from one city to another situated 1,200 km from each other for 5,000 tenge (US$18.12). It is cheaper than a one-way ticket for one passenger,” he said.
Oshakbayev added storing a wooden yurt is very complicated compared to a steel one and he is very proud of his unique design.
“Usually, my yurts are purchased by stock keepers and owners of recreation facilities and cafés. I can surely say that yurts made in my company are much better than foreign ones, because we compared our products with Chinese ones. Chinese yurts are cheap and after one or two assemblies and disassemblies, owners have to fix it. Our products are very durable thanks to their design and production quality,” he said.
The popular international tiny house movement has made yurts very fashionable and as a result they are being revisited globally as an eco-friendly, mobile and economic form of housing which can exist not only as a period piece, but as a necessary and useful lodging alternative.