Villas v yurts in Mongolia

A yurtful divide

THE view northward from the centre of Mongolia’s capital takes in not only the mountains that rise at the edge of the city, but also sprawling settlements of nomadic herders who have moved to their slopes. Over the years the view has gradually changed. Yurts made of white felt are creeping steadily up the hillsides, like a glacier in reverse.

These neighbourhoods, called ger districts after the Mongolian word for yurt, house 60% of the city’s population. They are most dense to the north of Ulaanbaatar, but have taken root elsewhere on its periphery–everywhere but the south. Instead, the southern edge of the city, and especially an area called Zaisan, is home to the wealthiest of Mongolia’s emerging upper class, as well as many expatriates.

Zaisan boasts luxury villas, fancy shopping malls and at least one gated community. It is also close to Mongolia’s first proper golf course. The area’s biggest and...

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