Arrows & Alcohol in Bhutan

When passing through a Bhutanese village, say on a Saturday morning, do keep a look out for local villagers competing in field archery matches. Archers gather under a colorful flag draped canopy; half of each team shoots, while those not shooting, mingle and praise their teammates and boisterously jeer the opposing team. It’s an animated competition, players dressed in their traditional robes or Gho and knee-high black socks. The handsome archers bedecked in brilliantly tinted scarves attract admiration as the vibrant scarves denote their prowess and proficiency.

Archery is a traditional Saturday Bhutanese activity, enjoyed mostly by men at local archery clubs, situated in open fields flanked by tall trees. Dogs doze warmed by the sun and wait for delicacies. Conventional bamboo bows and arrows have been updated with carbon fiberglass bows. The brightly painted target is set low at a massive distance, close to one and a half football fields, I couldn’t even see the small target from the shooters line. Almost every village in Bhutan has a field dedicated to archery.

Archery or Dha, is the national sport of Bhutan and if you visit and stay at the highly regarded Amankora Lodges, you can definitely count on a few spirited matches with your guides and hotel staff.  We played with traditional bamboo bow and arrows and a much shorter target range. Archery is a calming sport, particularly improved by sipping small wooden cups of Ara, a potent distilled rice liquor.

Boisterous competitions are an age-old custom, with cheering and group dances performed every time an archer hits the wooden target. Archery is woven into the fabric of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom. Men gather at their small clubs to enjoy a Saturday of drinking and arrows and camaraderie. Competition is ferocious, and a very brilliantly festooned archer told me whiskey actually improves his aim. I asked if their wives care if they hang out at the filed all day, they responded with a cheer and a toast!

Decorated Bumthang Archer
Why yes, I would love to practice the ancient art – where is the target?
Gracious archers offered me a cup of Ara and a biscuit.
The archery field is within walking distance of Amankora Bumthang Lodge

I was offered a traditional drink, but not a bow, however, I was invited by the most decorated archer to photograph him during his turn. A gift in itself.

Target Size 476 feet away!
A lazy Bumthang Saturday at the Archery Field
Song and chant encouragement.