Bhutan Travels … with bow and arrow

November 11, 2008
taking aim

A loud cry, a dull thud and all in a sudden a singing and dancing crowd clad in Ghos.

You don’t know what a Gho is?

The national bhutanese dress – and we are in the middle of an archery tournament at the „bha-cho“, the archery field of Thimphu, the capital.

Since the admission of Bhutan to the UN in 1971 this is officially the national sport and only olympic contest of the country.

But bhutanese archery is somewhat different from the rest of the archery world.

Here, at home, bhutanese archers shoot over a distance of 140m, different from the Olympics of only 70m. One would therefore expect Bhutan to be on top of the olympic archery list – not so, this year in Beijing South Korea made the top (5 medals), followed by China (3) and Ukraine (1) ranking 3rd. The first Bhutanese, Tashi Peljor, only appeared on rank 56. Why?

Archery begins with God!

For Bhutanese archery is more than sports, it is a connection to the spiritual world and their proponents. From the beginning it was, and still is, a competition mainly among villages and usually accompanied by strange things happening in obscurety. Like team members descending a hill backwards or taking with them small relics from temples to be blessed by the dieties or renouncing all worldly amenities for the duration of the competition.

The roots of archery are deeply entwined in myth and legends, which may also explain the function of those men with allegedly supernatural powers, hired by teams to grant success and discourage the rivals – the legendary Tsips. Tsips are a kind of medium or derwish, supposedly able to guide arrows according to their wish or redirect the wind to divert those of the opponents. Although no longer officially tolerated, Tsips might still be present albeit incognito.

Apart from the difference in shooting distance, traditional archery still requires bamboo gear although modern and more precise compound material is available.

Also quite different from the Olympics, archery competitions are a riot of colour and excitement. Team members yell accross the field to give directions or indicate how far the target was missed, often accompanied by howls and jokes. The opposing team may shout back and make ribald remarks while the successful shooter proudly tucks a coloured scarf into his belt. At major tournaments each team brings his chearleading party of girls in their colourful Kira dresses, they dance or shout provoking and disparaging comments about the opponents.

Archery in Bhutan is a festival, an attraction, an event not to be missed – but beware of Tsips, they may distract your attention while dipping into your pockets.

More traditions of Bhutan at:



Bhutan Travels, a touch with the past.

October 26, 2008

Heavy fog billows around steep ridges. Occasionally the blurred sight of a red rooftop or a golden tip, a whitewashed wall offering a glimpse what lies behind the grayish-white vapors – slowly the mist begins to raise and enables a view to a breathtaking clustered structure, glued to a vertical rock formation of more than 2000 feet like a swallow’s home. The Taktshang Goemba or “Tiger’s Nest”, situated high above the narrowing Paro valley in Bhutan.

On the back of a flying tigress Guru Rinpoche, the holy founder of tantric Buddhism, is said to have landed here to meditate in a cave.

Now, those are long gone times, over 1.300 years, when Bhutan was  still  part of Tibet and the old Bon religion and its animistic world of Gods was widespread and Buddhism just started to get a foothold. Today the rock perched Goemba is the holiest monastery in the Himalayas.

To honor the Guru, every year festivals are taking place in all the Lhakhangs and Goembas spread over the country. The bhutanese people call them “Tshechus”.
Tshechus are religious mask dances and rituals intended to familiarise the visitors with bhuddist teachings – the Dharma – to protect them from mishaps and free them from evil. The dances are taking place each year at the Dzongs, either in spring or autumn, arranged according to the lunar calender.

Tshechus have been established by the founder of Bhutan, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, already during the 17.century. Bhutanese people owe their unchanged cultural identity to those rites and festivals closely tied to religion. These events usually are lasting several days, largest and most important Tshechus are those in Thimphu and Paro. Tshechus also provide a forum for social gatherings and contacts. Therefore everybody takes out his best dress or official robe to celebrate the occasion.        Some of the dances are said to be traced back to Guru Rinpoche himself. However, most dances have been choreographed by Pema Lingpa, a tantric saint from Bumthang or the Shabdrung.

If you want to learn more about Tshechus visit:                                                      

Hello world!

October 16, 2008

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