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

The Gift from Bhutan & Amankora

I travel for adventure, culture and new recipes, oh and maybe some shopping. In many destinations i am introduced to divine cuisine, these meals inspire a dinner party based on a native dish. Do you remember the first time you dined on a tangy spice infused chicken and date tagine in Morocco?  And then schlepped a clay tagine home to create a full blown Moroccan Feast – guests in exotic caftans, babouche (shoes), and of course accompanied by ancient folk music. I’ll never forget that spicy summer evening in my garden.

Momo Heaven, served in a traditional hand made local basket. Use caution with the fireworks in your mouth red chili!

Our initial evening Amankora Thimphu pre-prandial cocktail hour included amid a platter of morsels, a humble dumpling, known as a Momo, accompanied by a fiery red chili sauce. Who knew it would become the precious darling of Bhutan and virtually demanded by our travel group exploring Amankora Lodges. Momo became a rally cry from thereafter. An absorbing 10-day Aman Adventure enriched by sampling Bhutanese cuisine including: Yak steak with radish red chili, diced chicken curry with glass noodles, chili cheese and Yak butter tea.

As we drove through the villages and countryside from Amankora Thimphu to Amankora Punakha, I casually queried Mark Wright, Amankaro Thimphu Manager, will we be able to enjoy Momo’s for lunch on arrival? Mark hesitated and murmured, in his very proper British accent, ah Gwen, Momo’s are usually served pre-dinner. Pardon me?! Frantic texting ensued from the back seat and we were thrilled to again snack on Momo’s on arrival at Punakha Lodge.

There are three types of Momo ingredients: Beef, Cabbage & Cheese and Pork- the shape indicates the filling.

We became addicted to Momo’s and required three times a day offering! Mark alerted each ensuing location to advise we consumed Momo’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Warn Chef, we have fervent Momo Maniacs approaching each lodge.

Amankora arduously tracks guest likes and dislikes, penchants and weaknesses – one late evening at Amankora Punakha, I skipped dinner as we enjoyed a wonderfully bountiful lunch. At nine, I called to request help with my fireplace and seeking the fabulous, also slightly addictive, hot water bottle for my bed – I was gently reminded by staff that I hadn’t dined yet – oh, a couple of Momo’s and a glass of Chenin Blanc will suffice.

With that, on a wintry snowy morning, I requested a Momo cooking class at Amankora Paro – as Amankora is inclined to do, please their guests, Chef invited me to the kitchen for a personal class, just like that!

Chef ‘s Tej Bakadur Rai and Richard Bia at Amankora Paro, Kadren chela! And of course, compliments to Mark who alerted each Lodge of our Momo Addiction! I’m eternally grateful.

Momo pop up or pre-prandial treats in my garden once I master Yak Chili Stew, Yul Chum (Bhutanese local white rice), Kewa Hanstey Tshem ( Local potato curry with spinach).

I’ve included a couple of recipes here from the Amankora chef’s, presented to me on Bhutanese hand made paper, of course!

Chef ‘s Tej Bakadur Rai at Amankora Paro

Nga Mangm goni, Momo! Taski delek!