I recently spent a few days on a homestay with a nomadic family in a ger in Western Mongolia as part of Unquote Travel’s Golden Eagle Festival tour and so many people have asked me about the experience I thought I’d write about it here. 

We were in Western Mongolia for the Golden Eagle Festival, an annual celebration of the nomadic Kazakh eagle hunters, which includes a competition for the top eagle hunter, but also showcases other local traditions. 

A Mongolian ger - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

As part of our tour, we stayed with a local Kazakh family in their ger (yurt) – a large canvas tent that is moved from place to place with the seasons. 

We arrived at the tiny airport for the Western Mongolian town of Ulgii in late afternoon, where our driver met us to take us to the family’s camp in Sagsai. I was a little surprised when, shortly after we left the airport, the driver pulled over, grabbed tools from behind the driver’s seat, and adjusted something on the tires. He hopped back in and drove right off the road, through an opening in a fence, and set off across a field.

We had had a bit of trouble just getting to Ulgii, with weather delays and traffic nightmares, but now it felt like our adventure was kicking into high gear. Or actually low gear, on our Russian 4×4, through snow and ice and rocks and mud.

Full moon over Mongolia - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

We met our cook, Rina, who was hired by our local tour operator to prepare meals for us and for the family during our stay. This arrangement served the dual purpose of ensuring that our meals were prepared to sufficient hygienic standards for the guests, and provided a welcome respite and benefit to the family during a time when they needed to prepare not only for the eagle festival but for the coming winter season. 

Milking cows, goats, and yaks in a Mongolian ger camp - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

The family kept a flock of sheep and goats at the camp, as well as a cow and a yak for milk, and horses for transportation and work. 

Taurkel the eagle hunter - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

Taurkel was the patriarch of the family, and his sons and their families stayed in the ger camp with him and his wife. During our homestay, the family slept in the main ger where meals were prepared, leaving the other gers for the guests.

interior of mongolian yurt in western mongolia - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

Our beds were arranged in a circle against the walls of the yurt, which were lined with felt and carpets for insulation. A wood stove in the middle of the yurt was stoked by different family members throughout the night to keep us warm and toasty. (Except for our first night, when we woke up shivering because the fire had gone out. They felt bad about that and totally made up for it the next night, when we barely needed the warm blankets they provided!)

The bathroom facilities were rather basic, but better than I expected. There was a small outhouse tent for us to use, with a plastic toilet positioned atop a hole in the ground. And that’s about it. They rigged up a makeshift sink for us to wash up, and would have put together a shower hut for us but none of us was clamoring for that. We just silently agreed not to mind that no one was showering for a few days.

Milk tea with the family in a western Mongolian ger - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia

We stayed with the family for two nights, with breakfasts and dinners in the communal yurt. I’ll share another post about the food, but I can tell you no one went hungry! The food was outstanding, the company was engaging, the eagle hunter and his family were welcoming and curious.

On our first night we presented small gifts to the family of a soccer ball, binoculars, and a bracelet to the elders, and toys and art supplies for the children. The binoculars were a huge hit with Taurkel, whose eyes were beginning to fail him. An earlier visitor had mentioned that dental care was spotty in Western Mongolia, and that mouth numbing gel might be a good gift. In fact, our host’s daughter-in-law was suffering from a toothache and she was thrilled to have some relief from it.

The next day, Taurkel said he was so touched by the gift that he wanted to return the generosity. He presented our fellow traveler with a leather hood used for eagle training – a truly one-of-a-kind gift. We were all stunned.

Our time with Taurkel and his family was incredibly special to all of us and our memories will stay with us always. I highly recommend that you look into doing a homestay in a ger with a nomadic family in Mongolia if you have the chance.

Sheep and goats in a western Mongolia ger camp - Homestay with a Nomadic Family in a Ger in Mongolia