Tshering Dorgi helps his friend Tandin handle a bow and arrow at an archery tournament in Thimphu. Archery became the national sport in Bhutan in 1972 when the country joined the United Nations. Its popularity is a paradox as it is considered a martial art in a country that abhors killing.
Bhutan – Fact Check

An unmatched love for the bow

Photo by Paula Bronstein

Bhutan – Fact Check An unmatched love for the bow

Archery is the national sport in Bhutan, a paradox as it is considered a martial art in a country that abhors killing.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

The bow and arrow has long roots in Bhutan’s history, being used in warfare and for hunting, and arrows are still seen as an offering on shrines. Despite the fact that the Buddhist religion now prohibits killing, it was declared the national sport in 1972 when Bhutan joined the United Nations. Bhutan regularly wins medals at Asian archery tournaments and has high hopes of a breakthrough at the Summer Olympics. It has sent a team to the Olympic Games since 1984 which has been made up solely of archers until an entry for air-rifle shooting in 2012.

However, the country has never won a medal, although its increasing use of modern composite bows is making it more competitive. The traditional bow is made of bamboo, with arrows made of bamboo or reed and feather fletchings. Such a homemade bow costs up to $20, while imported high-end brands – essential to be competitive internationally – can cost well over $1,000. The small traditional wooden targets are also set at 130 meters, while the Olympic standard is only 50 meters.

The Bhutanese often wear the traditional national dress, which is a kimono-like gown called a gho, while playing. The sport has been a traditional pastime for the king and plays a prominent part in every local festival. An important part of such competitions is distracting your opponents with insults and taunts, while superstitions and secret rituals also play an unspoken but major part. However, the drinking of alcohol, which added to the problem of accidents caused by the introduction of more powerful modern bows, is now officially banned in the national archery league.

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Boys practise penalty shooting on a soccer field in Jakar. Archery may be the national sport but soccer is the most popular one, although the country is almost at the bottom of the world rankings, placed 204th, just behind Mongolia. Photo by Peter Adams

Peter Adams

Peter Adams

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Aperture
ƒ/5.6
Exposure
1/250
ISO
100
Focal
144 mm

Boys practise penalty shooting on a soccer field in Jakar. Archery may be the national sport but soccer is the most popular one, although the country is almost at the bottom of the world rankings, placed 204th, just behind Mongolia.

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