Let loose in Bhutan

Credit to Shriya Agarwal

There is a mystical allure to the elegant and ancient tradition of archery that spans the world. Archery helped humans feed and protect themselves. It gave them the power to explore and live in the world around them.

I pull back a bow. I feel a direct connection to both human history and nature at the same time. I take a deep breath, open my eyes and think… Where is this place and how do I get there?!

Ding! Thank you Tourder’s!!!

It turns out the perfect place to let loose and connect to nature is on top of the world, in the Himalayan Mountains and in  Bhutan. Truly a magical kingdom where archery is a national sport, happiness is a national treasure and everyone plays.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a worthwhile trip for anyone that is interested in visiting one of the last places in the world that preserves their delicate ecosystem, biodiversity, and cultural heritage. In fact, their constitution ensures that at least 60% of their land must be preserved as pristine forest. Not only is their target to be carbon negative, it is also something that they’ve already achieved.  

Moreover, Bhutan is a sacred destinations that preserves its own cultural identity like a national treasure. It has hardly been influenced by the West.

Credit to Andrea Oschetti & Mark Wiens
Credit to Andrea Oschetti & Mark Wiens

It’s a place where you completely feel like a tourist if you’re dressed in t-shirt and jeans. The local Bhutanese keep it classy! They dress traditionally everyday. Men wear Ghohs, which resemble a fancy, warm, comfortable bathrobe. Women wear colourful blouses wrapped in Kira, an elegant, hand-woven silk skirt. And they all look beautiful.

The Bhutanese even sport this outfit when they play Archery! They call Archery, Dha, and playing it is as natural to them as it for the Spanish to dance salsa. Keeping it old school and eco-cool, bow and arrows are carved from bamboo, and the target out of wood.

My tour guide, Samdrup took me to watch some archery at a field near the local Thimpu village market. He told me that he’s played in tournaments at school and it’s unusual for a Bhutanese man to say no to a game of archery. It’s part of their national identity. He even laugh and admitted that his sister is better than him. Both humble and beautiful.

Credit to Kfamilysite
Credit to Kfamilysite

Now imagine trying to shoot a target the size of a cantaloupe across 1 and a half football fields. In Bhutanese archery, that’s what you do. You try and hit this little circle that’s 150 meters away. Yep, that’s what the Bhutanese do for fun. Pretty cool, right?!!

What makes it even better is the jovial nature of the teams playing against one another. Each team stands at opposite ends of the field, singing and dancing for each other when it’s the other team’s turn to shoot. I loved how backwards of an event it was, where you cheer for your opponents. Such a nice and friendly community!

Later, Samdrup translated some of the songs they were singing and dancing to, and let’s just say, it’s not suitable for your grandma’s ears. If you do manage to hit the target however, the other team must celebrate and sing to you like you’re some God or Goddess. It’s very flattering and a huge ego-boost. So, it’s fair in the end.

When Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Bhutan and had their stab at Bhutan’s National Sport they found out what one of these songs sound like. As Prince William was ready to shoot, the Bhutanese community sang a sweet melody that went something like this:

Credit to NDTV
Credit to NDTV

“You’re bald! You’re a baldy! Your nose is really big! We wish for your private parts to be just as big”

It doesn’t matter who you are, light-hearted humour is part of the Bhutanese cultural identity. I had no roasting of any sort as this was my first time shooting, and this was just target practice.

When it was my turn I successfully shot an entire 35 meters and hit the target! And then was praised and worship like a goddess!

I learned how to play archery at the tranquil UMA by Paro COMO Hotel. Three Bhutanese gentlemen taught me archery. They were my driver, butler (you have to have one) and guide. They were the definition of awesome.

All in all, it was an amazing adventure to see how Bhutan weaves archery, nature, culture and community together. In the end I was won over by their light-hearted spirit, wit, good nature and humor. If there is any place in the world that truly celebrates Archery, it would be Bhutan. Oh yeah. You should go there 😉