Baytur Kymyz Resort, Kyrgyzstan
I am ready to take my first sip, slightly nervous about what it’s going to taste like. The white milk in my glass looks relatively normal, except maybe for a few more bubbles than usual. But I’m a bit apprehensive because I’ve just seen where it came from.
In a large shed a few metres away, a young man has just milked a horse, poured the liquid into a bucket, and then poured it into my glass.
Yes, that’s right. A horse.
Here in Kyrgyzstan, this is not unusual. The country’s history and culture is inextricably intertwined with horses – the animals that have been transport, labour, weapons and food for centuries.
In fact, it is such an important part of tradition that this farm has been set up just so people can come here and drink the fresh horse milk.
For me, it’s a bit of a novelty. For the locals, it has a deeper meaning.
I start to drink the horse milk. I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s warm and tastes lighter than the cow milk I’m used to. Even a bit sweeter. It’s as though someone has taken skim milk and put a bit of sugar in it.
Although I continue to just sip from my glass, I am actually enjoying it. But I have no inclination to just gulp everything down quickly.
That’s what the others around me are doing, though. There are at least a dozen locals here with me who have come for the horse milk. (Well, I say ‘local’ but it turns out some are from neighbouring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.)
They are not here for just the glass, though. They have come for a few days, a week, maybe even a fortnight.
Because the horse farm, called Baytur, is essentially a health retreat. There’s an accommodation section with different styles of rooms (from dorm, to private, to family yurt) and guests stay here over an extended period to regularly drink the horse milk.
The animals are milked five times a day and fresh milk is then served directly afterwards. Most people will wander down from their rooms to the outdoor seating area for a glass every time.
When I arrive, I am given a brochure that explains the health benefits of the horse milk. Reading it, I get the sense that the drink can apparently help with almost anything.
- It influences the nervous system to treat chronic fatigue and avoid depression.
- It strengthens the gut to improve digestion.
- It cures or prevents respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia.
- It enhances the liver and helps damaged cells recover.
- It is good for the skin and can treat things like eczema and dermatitis.
- And it lowers cholesterol and helps with blood conditions like anaemia.
Now, I’m not a doctor so I’m not in a position to judge any of these claims. I do take them with a grain of salt and am sceptical about words like ‘cure’ or ‘prevent’.
But, at the same time, there’s no doubt that our bodies can benefit from eating and drinking certain things.
And when it comes to horse milk, this is not a new fad. This is something that has been done for hundreds of years and modern research has supported some of the claims.
The Baytur resort is a relaxing environment to come for treatment like this. It’s not far from the main highway between Bishkek and Osh but it’s hidden behind a hill that keeps the noise away.
Like most of Kyrgyzstan in summer, there are dramatic snow-capped mountains on the horizon but lush green fields here on the plain.
The woman who looks after the horses shows me around a bit. There are more than fifty horses here so they milk them in a typical farming shed using a machine designed for cows that they imported from Germany.
But she also demonstrates for me how it is done traditionally, wrapping her arm around the horse’s back legs in a way that will prevent her from being kicked. They also have a foal there to encourage the female’s milk flow.
She also shows me the room where they make the ‘kymyz’. This is a very important part of the local culture and another reason people come here.
Kymyz is fermented horse milk that has become slightly alcoholic. Right after milking, the liquid is put into a container made from leathered horse skin and yeast is added. It then has to be regularly stirred.
By the time it’s served, the alcohol content is normally about 3%. I am offered a glass and start to sip.
I can taste the fermentation but not the alcohol. It has a very different taste to the fresh milk – it’s thicker and a bit more bitter.
It’s not as smooth and not as easy to gulp down… for me, at least.
After my tour, we go back to the outdoor table where the guests gather five days a day in time for another session. This time I notice that quite a few people are choosing to drink the kymyz instead of the fresh milk.
It too has health benefits, apparently. I guess the bonus is that it also gives you a bit of a buzz!
I’m not sure what kind of buzz I get from the whole experience. I find my time at the Baytur resort fascinating and I love the insight into this part of Kyrgyzstan’s culture. The horse milk was quite nice but I’m not sure I could drink too much of it.
Then again, maybe that’s the problem. I can’t pass any real judgements unless I spend a week or two here, drinking it five times a day, curing all my ailments.
All the things you need to know
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Discover Kyrgyzstan but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own. This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT KYRGYZSTAN?
To help you plan your trip to Kyrgyzstan:
- A self-guided tour of the Soviet monuments in Bishkek
- The strange Bishkek monument built for weddings
- The best food to eat in Kyrgyzstan
- See the Soviet murals left in Osh
- Discover why this mountain has been sacred for centuries
- You need to see Sary Chelek Lake for yourself to understand its beauty
- Spending three days on a horse exploring the mountains
- Would you drink horse milk? This place may change your mind!
- Burana Tower is part of Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road World Heritage Site
- One of the mnost interesting Silk Road sites in the country
Let someone else do the work for you:
You may also want to consider taking a tour of Kyrgyzstan, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.
I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and they have great tours of Kyrgyzstan.
You could consider:
When I travel internationally, I always get insurance. It’s not worth the risk, in case there’s a medical emergency or another serious incident. I recommend you should use World Nomads for your trip.