Bhutan Stories and Tips

An Afternoon out with the Boys - Bhutan Style

Bhutanese archer Photo, Bhutan, Asia

The ancient art of "bows-and-arrows" is the National Sport of Bhutan and is the most common way for young men-folk to pass a Sunday afternoon. I did wonder if archery had grown from a history of hunting small furry critters for food but I was wrong. Archery is not about food, it's about war - shooting at invading Tibetan armies or fighting with your neighbours. In a country with mountainous terrain many of the usual forms or warfare have limited use and so archery remained an effective form of warfare long after the rest of the world had moved on to guns and missiles.

On any Sunday afternoon when any self-respecting young man in Europe or North America would be out playing soccer with his friends or drinking in the bar, his Bhutanese counterpart can be found in his traditional dress (plus expensive trainers) with his ultra-technical bow firing arrows at a target no bigger than a football 150 meters away. Forget your normal 'big ringed target' with pretty colours about 50 m away - this is hard-core archery. I struggled to even see the target, it was so far away. And the only way you can tell if the archer has hit it, is that all his pals on his team start dancing and singing and jeering at the other team.

When we arrived at Paro airport our guide and driver picked us up to take us to our hotel and our first step was the town archery grounds. Each town or village will have an archery ground and Paro's is pretty typical. There are targets at either end of the 150m court. Each is painted on a wooden board. Taking it in turns, half of the archers fire from one end until all the arrows have been shot, and then the other half fire back from the far end. In between they stroll off for beers in the bar and posing for all the tourists who generally have little idea what's going on. The success and experience of the archer is reflected in the number of scarves hanging from the belt around his gho, the traditional national dress which must be worn for the occasion.

As a spectator sport the archery itself is secondary to the preening and strutting of the archers. Watching someone shoot at a target you can't actually see gets dull quite quickly whilst watching the lads hooting and hollering in delight or derision holds the attention for a lot longer.

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