The Asian Country That Wants To Attract Tourists With Horse Milk

Kyrgyzstan is a sparsely populated former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia that is known for its mountainous terrain and its history as a major stop along the ancient Silk Road trade route. There are more than 85 distinct mountain ranges in the country, covering 70% of the land, which has been called the "Switzerland of Central Asia," according to G Adventures.

The Tian Shan mountain range is one of its most popular tourist areas, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring lofty peaks towering above 20,000 feet, alpine lakes such as Issyk Kul, and its own Grand Canyon. Horseback riding and watching traditional horse racing are other activities that draw visitors to Tian Shan.

Horses represent a significant part of Kyrgyz people's nomadic culture and customs and their warrior past, which is reflected in its present (via Kalpak Travel). Some of the traditional foods and beverages regularly consumed in Kyrgyzstan are horse meat and horse milk called kumis, considered the national drink (per Wild Frontiers). Its capital Bishkek is even named after a paddle used to churn fermented mare's milk (via CNN). Now Kyrgyzstan is banking on horse milk to help lure more tourists to this landlocked nation.

Got mare's milk?

Kyrgyzstan produces a fermented mare's milk called kumis, a traditional beverage that locals both drink and bathe in, touting its health benefits. The idea behind promoting horse milk as a reason to visit the country is linked to the global rise in popularity of fermented and probiotic drinks, according to CNN.

While one might expect a bigger emphasis on the beauty of its dramatic landscapes and its unique history, the mare's milk endeavor is part of an overall tourism marketing campaign that encourages visitors to experience the traditional nomadic Kyrgyz way of life. This entails sleeping in a yurt nestled in valleys below those majestic mountain peaks next to herds of horses which supply the milk. Its basic approach is to live like a local and eat and drink like a local.

That includes the opportunity to sample fresh local milk known as saamal in the yurts as well. It's like a wine tasting, except for milk. A Saudi Arabian traveler to Kyrgyzstan interviewed for a Reuters story couldn't compare the taste of the fermented horse milk to anything he had previously tried. Curious globetrotters and gourmands will just have to make the trek themselves and see if kumis lives up to its billing.