The precision, elegance and heritage of archery takes on renewed energy in Bhutan, where this ancient pursuit has become not just a well-loved sport, but a symbol of culture and community. Watch competing teams prove their skill, join in with the sideline celebrations and soak up the accompanying atmosphere with food, drink and traditional song. When you’re ready to have a go, head to an archery class and draw your bow...
Archery is an official national sport in Bhutan, and every village and town has its own dedicated field, or bha cho, where locals can practise their aim. Having been a crucial method hunting and defence for centuries, in peaceful Bhutan, archery evolved into a martial artform practised by royalty, giving it a fashionable profile that has guaranteed it a long-lasting place in the country’s culture.
With a focus on the social side, and plenty of loud team bravado, Bhutanese archery is a different beast from its international equivalent. Teams of archers in traditional Bhutanese dress take aim at small, brightly coloured targets 145m away (more than double the standard Olympic distance), often using bamboo bows and arrows rather than the lightweight, modern carbon fibre versions. Shots that hit their mark are greeted with raucous celebrations by the scoring team, and a colourful scarf for the archer to add to the collection tucked into their belt, while arrows that miss bring mocking banter from the opposing side. Every eventuality calls for a swig of something boozy by both competitors and fans, meaning that things can get pretty rowdy as the tournament progresses!
Though old-school tournaments often take days to complete, the modern game is usually limited to one day of competitions with plenty of time to enjoy the accompanying food and entertainment and be part of the full Bhutanese archery spectator experience. On national holidays especially, the archery fever goes up a notch, so expect to get involved an event of some kind - they’re hard to miss!
If you are keen to have a go for yourself, book a lesson in Thimphu or Paro and start catching the archery bug. With an experienced teacher by your side, you can go from arrow-zero to target-hitting hero. Feel the thrill of pulling back your bow, trying to keep a steady grip with your heart pounding, before letting an arrow fly, experiencing the exhilaration of seeing it strike the target, and celebrating with Bhutan-style enthusiasm.