Travelling around Bhutan, you will not fail to stumble across an inter village archery contest, and if you have some free time, you should not miss the opportunity to experience the country’s highly popular national sport.

More than simply a sporting event, the games are a window into to Bhutanese cultural cohesion, and attract everyone in the vicinity to enjoy the social occasion.

Typically, the martial art of archery is practiced only by the menfolk, rooted in their traditional role in the defence of the country, with the womenfolk providing food, drink and vocal support. In the modern era, however, the Bhutanese Olympic team does include women.

The archers dress in their fine traditional costumes, and in an echo or the of ancient wartime practice, blessings are sought from the local temple to bestow good fortune at the games, one of a number of rituals performed in the prelude to contests.

The tournaments are well attended and enthusiastically supported, interspersed with dancing, singing and cheering. Ceremonious alcohol consumption is also a feature of the sport and helps to enliven the events.

The targets are relatively small by international comparison, and the shooting distance is traditionally twice that used as the Olympic standard. Each team normally consists of between ten and thirteen competitors. Two targets are set apart, normally at a distance around 145 metres, with players playing each end in turn.

The traditional bows are fashioned out of bamboo, but many archers now employ the use of modern compound carbon fibre and aluminium bows. Each player unleashes two arrows in turn at the target and copious celebrations are the normal response to a hit. A miss will elicit mocking jeers from the other side, which infuses the contest with enormous entertainment value.

Although for the most part, contests are highly amusing for spectators, there have been a few instances of injury from stray arrows, as the local supporters sometime enjoy getting a little too close to the action.

As the long isolated Kingdom increasingly opens up to international affairs, the country now has great ambitious Olympic expectations for its extraordinary wealth of archers.

The adaptation and translation of traditional archery skills into international competition presents some difficulties, the most obvious being the vast target distance to which most archers are accustomed.

Another issue is the widespread reliance on alcohol and betel nut stimulants as the method employed for getting archers ‘in the zone’, which is wholly inconsistent with international sport anti-doping considerations.

Attending a local archery tournament is hugely enjoyable, and a wonderful way to get to know, understand and above all enjoy the company of the Bhutanese people.

If you want to try your hand at archery, many towns and villages will happily provide archery lessons for visitors.