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  • The Curious Traveler

Archery in Bhutan: Learning to Embrace the Unexpected

Our Bhutan guests often ask if they will have the chance to watch an archery tournament during their visit to this Himalayan kingdom. Although they are perhaps a slight bit disappointed when I cannot guarantee such an occurrence, there are simply some special events that we cannot fix as a part of our itineraries. I do assure them, however, that it is fairly likely that they will happen across a village archery match along the trail.

I learned this first hand, when I literally stumbled into an archery match during my visit to Bhutan—strolling right across the field as the opposing teams were firing arrows at their respective targets. Unbeknownst to me, I had entered the line of fire, and my only saving grace were some shouts from the spectators, giving me a warning signal as the arrows were lobbed overhead. Having emerged unscathed, this unexpected and surely memorable experience encapsulates why I love to travel.

There are some things you should know about how archery is played in Bhutan which make it easy to understand why our guests are constantly inquiring about the opportunity to see such an event unfold:

  • Archery is a centuries-old tradition in Bhutan, and now a national sport boasting an Olympic team.

    A Bhutanese archer wearing his Gho.
    A Bhutanese archer wearing his Gho.
  • Archers must wear traditional dress, called a Gho, and knee-high socks.
  • Targets are set about 140 meters apart, the length of one and a half football fields.
  • Every time the target is struck, the opposing team performs a traditional song and dance, typically describing themes of love, enlightenment, and karma.
  • Getting struck by an arrow is a risk you run as a participant, and archery injuries are the most common reasons for hospital admissions in Bhutan.
  • Since Bhutan is a matriarchal society, prizes are intended for an archer’s wife and daughters, and may even include household items such as washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves.

    Scenes from an impromptu archery match.
    Scenes from a village archery match.

Are you curious to visit and perhaps see such a spectacle unfold? Come join Boundless Journeys in the kingdom of Bhutan, where our guides are superb at taking advantage of the cultural events that seem to crop up in every little village and valley in the country– archery included.  And remember to embrace the wonder of travel – spontaneously arising events that you do not expect to be a part of your journey. This is what we strive to do in order to provide our guests with outstanding experiences.

About Boundless Journeys Boundless Journeys is an award-winning small group adventure tour operator. With a diverse collection of locally guided, small group itineraries and Private Collection trips around the world, Boundless Journeys offers “The World’s Great Adventures.” The adventure trips for 2-16 guests are active, ranging from leisurely cultural explorations and wildlife safaris to challenging trekking ― with plenty of easy to moderate walking and sea kayaking in between.



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