Written by CHRISTA AND ROBERT MCDERMOTT
Shortly after we crossed the covered bridge below the beautiful Paro Dzong, we came upon a group of men engrossed in an impromptu archery tournament, Bhutan’s national sport. We immediately joined the small group of spectators – locals seated quietly on benches under the trees.
A Bhutanese archery pitch is 150 meters long. The targets, one at each end, are white wooden boards, about one meter tall and a half a meter wide, stuck into the ground, with a bull’s eye painted on them. There are two teams, with members at each end of the pitch. Each member has two arrows. The teams shoot alternately, first those at one end and then those at the other. Hit the centre of the bull’s eye (virtually impossible!) and you get three points; hit the target and you get one point. The game is to 21 and, given the difficulty, can last for hours.
There are captains at each end. They crouch beside the target giving directions to the shooters by whistling and waving their arms – aim higher, lower, to the right, to the left and so forth. They then wait for the shot, eyes skyward, and leap quickly aside as the arrow hurtles towards the target. Being captain is not for the faint-hearted!
Occasionally, an arrow strikes the target. When it does, the captains leap up and begins bowing in the direction of the shooter. This is followed by dancing and singing, mild applause from the audience and the awarding of a coloured silk ribbon to the shooter. The ritual then continues.
We watched for some time in a mixture of fascination and amusement and then moved on. We returned much later in the day and they were still at it, dancing and singing. The Kingdom of Happiness indeed!