April 3, 2009
Archery in Bhutan: a private lesson in the national pastime
One of the highlights we arrange for our travelers visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan is seeing an archery competition. The Bhutanese are very passionate about their national sport, and almost every village has their own archery range with multi-day competitions taking place throughout the year.
In Bhutan, archery competitions are lively and colorful events, filled with dancing, songs, jeers, jokes and even cheerleaders.
In international competitions such as the Olympics, the target is placed 164 feet away from the archer, while in Bhutan, the target is placed at a whopping 460 feet! It is often so difficult to see the target that teammates will stand dangerously close to it in order to give the archer a better view where to aim. They then have to yell back to let the archer know where the arrow hit. If an arrow makes it to the target, teammates break out into songs of praise and dance. Meanwhile, opponents attempt to disrupt the archer’s concentration by taunting and distracting him, dancing near the target, and mocking the archer when a shot is missed. Even the cheerleaders will sing songs and perform routines that make fun of the other team. It can be quite a spectacle, but all in good fun.
In a country where Buddhism permeates every aspect of life and there is a reverence for all living things, it is interesting to find a national sport that uses an instrument typically used for hunting and war. Today, bows and arrows are strictly used for play and games. Even the feathers used on the arrow can only be collected from the ground since killing a bird would be considered against Buddhist principles. Many archers still use traditional-style bows that are hand carved from long bamboo, but these days it is also possible to come across an archer in his traditional dress, with fresh white Nikes, and a state-of-the-art, imported carbonite bow.
We often arrange for our travelers to Bhutan to attend archery competitions. It’s a great way to connect with the local culture, especially an aspect that the Bhutanese are so passionate about. For those interested in trying their own hand at the bow and arrow, we arrange a private lesson with one of Bhutan’s top archers. Families and groups of friends traveling with us also enjoy having us arrange their own private, exclusive archery competition where they can compete against each other, complete with cheerleaders. Many of the competitions we arrange are led by national Bhutanese champion archers.