When you think of a popular sport where the participants are mostly affluent men, you generally think of golf — at least in the U.S. However, in Bhutan, the most popular participatory sport is archery. That’s not to say that some Bhutanese don’t enjoy golf, but I was told (although, I haven’t fact checked this) that there’s only one golf course in Bhutan.
One of the highlights of my day today was attending an archery match and chatting with the competitors. The way archery is played in Bhutan is quite interesting. Targets are set up 150 meters apart. Members from both teams stand on each side and when one side is shooting, the other side hides behind large green barricades with many arrow scars, until the arrow hits the target. When someone hits the target, all of the team members from that side’s team sing and dance exuberantly in front of the target to celebrate. Every time someone hits a target, they receive a colored flag (depending on the team’s colors, usually red or yellow) that is placed around the waist and hangs down like a skirt.
The game is played to different point systems in different parts of the country, but in Thimpu it is best 2 out of 3 games, up to 25 points. While the game is played, some of the many stray dogs wander across or lay in the middle of the field seemingly unaware of the deadly arrows whizzing overhead.
I suspect that it is wealthier people who play archery, since all of their bows cost around $1000 dollars. One archer told me that the cheapest bow he saw was around $700 US and that all the bows are U.S. brands, since those “are the best”.
In order to leave the field, you have to cross the archer’s path, which in hindsight, we did at a more leisurely pace than I liked. No arrows hit my head this time around, but I have heard that accidents are rampant.
Check out the video below to see the score dance and an arrow hitting the target: