SHINE-IDER, Mongolia — For 16 days, I slept like Genghis Khan.
You can do that in Mongolia, and you really don't have much of a choice. For 5,000 years, rural Mongolians have lived in gers, or yurts, which are round, pointy shelters covered in white wool felt. Picture miniature circus tents, and you have gers.
Gers dot Mongolia's gorgeous countryside like mushrooms in a field of lush grass. They can be assembled in about three hours, perfect for Mongolians' nomadic lifestyle and travelers seeking insight into the "Great Mongol Nation" of the 13th century.
Inside the typical ger are six small — very small — beds lined head-to-toe surrounding a wood stove that releases smoke through a hole in the roof. Even in summer, the stove is needed when pleasant daytime temperatures of 70 to 80 plummet into the 40s at night.
After sleeping in gers for more than two weeks, I don't know if I respect Genghis Khan for conquering the world from Korea to Hungary or for being able to accomplish anything after sleeping on the same kind of beds I did.
I'm 6 foot 3. Many beds don't go a toenail past 5 foot 9. The quality of bedding varied. I slept on some relatively soft mattresses, and the sleeping bags provided were just warm enough. Other beds were like sleeping on a woodworking bench.
The accommodations are cheap, however. Most ger-keepers charge about $10 per bed, and the quality of gers goes up with the price. In the ancient Mongol capital of Kharkhorin, $60 gers feature carpeting, only two beds with real mattresses and wooden headboards. Those gers have a TV, stained-wood nightstands and two chairs with a table for tea.
They also have another luxury: toilets. In 16 days, I saw just four. Instead, rural Mongols use "natural toilets" — or holes in the ground. Nomads move around too much to make plumbing permanent.