Bhutan Travels … with bow and arrow

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:



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2 Responses to “Bhutan Travels … with bow and arrow”

  1. Forsyth County Archery Club - Forsyth, Cherokee, Fulton Georgia,USA » Blog Archive » The country of Bhutan has a rich history of archery Says:

    […] more here: Bhutan Travels … with bow and arrow Sponsored […]

  2. Dieter REICHEL Says:

    Thanks for taking up some of the content – and have a good aim.

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