Archery Competition, Thimphu, Bhutan

After the wonderful surprise visit to the colorful Dromchoe Festival and Buddha Point during our first day in Thimphu, our guide once again thrilled us with another unexpected treat before the day was over  – an archery competition! Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and passion. We were really wishing to see a match as we read that it is a great way to witness the fun-loving nature  of the Bhutanese.

Archery Target, Thimphu, BhutanIt was indeed entertaining and impressive to watch. We couldn’t help but be amazed by the precision in which the players hit the target.  A player has to shoot the arrow from an immense distance – 140 meters/460 feet away from this tiny target!  Not an easy feat!

Archery Competition, Thimphu, Bhutan.jpg
And here comes the entertaining part. Each time a player hits the target, his teammates perform a victory dance and a song of praise for him.  And since the target was hit regularly, dancing and singing came often.  Hence, the more the hits the longer the match. (We learned it could sometimes last all day long.)

Archery Competition, Thimphu, Bhutan.jpg
The match was not only fun but also very colorful. The kaleidoscope of sashes hanging around the players’ skirts represent their points. 

The National Memorial Chorten
We started our Day 2 in Thimphu with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, consecrated in 1974 as a memorial for the third King of Bhutan.  It reminded me of the chortens in Tibet. Chorten literally means “seat of faith” and Buddhists often refer them as the “mind of the Buddha.”

Memorial Chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan
A chorten normally contains sacred relics but this one does not. However, it  houses elaborate religious paintings and complex tantric statues depicting Buddhist philosophy. 

We observed many elderly locals circumambulating the chorten while spinning their prayer wheels. We learned that it was part of their daily ritual.  Our guide encouraged us to join them and to do three rounds. We did and it was touching to see and feel the spiritual devotion of those who were walking around the chorten with us.

Memorial Chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan
A man spinning a series of giant  prayer wheels in the compound of the Memorial Chorten. The prayer wheels contain scrolls inscribed with mantras. Tibetan Buddhists believe that spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the mantra orally. 

Memorial Chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan
We learned that elderly people in Bhutan spend most of their days performing spritual worships to obtain spiritual merits nor only for themselves but for their families and friends as well.

Zilukha Nunnery
Zilukha Nunnery, Thimphu, Bhutan
Bhutan seems to be associated with monks, but they have nuns, too! We visited the largest nunnery in Bhutan, although it didn’t really look that big if you compare it to monasteries that house the monks. We saw nuns going about their daily chores. We also saw them inside a modest temple where they were chanting prayers with deep devotion. 

National Institure of Zurig Chuzum (“The Painting School”)
Bhutanese treasure their traditional arts and deem it important to preserve them as part of their cultural and religious heritage, thus, this art school was established.  Although commonly known as “The Painting School,”  the institute also provides training for other traditional Bhutanese arts such as clay sculpting, embroidery, woodcarving, mask making, and Thangka painting. We visited the school and witnessed the students at work.

Painting School, Thimphu, Bhutan
Painting students checking out their artwork.

 Bhutanese arts are deeply rooted to their Buddhist tradition and their arts typically depict religious images and symbols.

Painting School, Thimphu, Bhutan
A student painting a clay sculpture of a deity.

Painting School, Thimphu, Bhutan
A student painting a clay sculpture of a deity.

Painting School, Thimphu, Bhutan
An embroidery class.

Painting School, Thimphu, Bhutan
A woodcarving class

Other Trades and Crafts

Hand Made Paper Factory, Thimphu, Bhutan
A woman separating sheets of paper at Junghi Handmade Paper Factory.

Traditional handmade papers are still produced and widely used in Bhutan. We visited Junghi Paper Factory where we witnessed the process of producing handmade papers using Daphne plants.  The handmade papers are used for religious manuscripts, envelopes, lampshades, packaging, shopping bags and are also exported to Japan.

Textile Academy, Thimphu, Bhutan
Bhutan boasts of producing exqusite textiles. At the Royal Textile Academy, the students are trained in traditional art of weaving to preserve the culture of  Bhutanese textile. .

Handicraft, Thimphu, Bhutan

Textiles for sale at a handicraft shop.

Handicraft, Thimphu, Bhutan

Vicrtory banners for sale at a handicrafts shop.

Institute of Traditional Medicine
Bhutan offers free health care to its citizens. Although the government has established modern hospitals and clinics, traditional medicines is still very much sought by the locals. 
Traditional Medicinal Hosptal, Thimphu, Bhutan.
In fact, the government also established the Institute of Traditional Medicine in cooperation with the World Health Organization not only to provide traditional treatment but also to develop and promote Bhutanese herbal medicine.  We visited the museum in the institute where we learned about the richness of Bhutan’s medicinal herbs. 

Traditional Medicinal Hospital, Thimphu, Bhutan
Locals waiting for their turn outside the room for “needle therapy.”

The National Library
The library was established in 1967 to preserve ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan texts as well as historical books and manuscripts.
National Library, Thimphu, Bhutan
Right: The library also housed a copy of the largest book in the world.  It is a picture book titled  “Bhutan.” It weighs 150 lbs and measures 5×7 feet. You can have a copy for a donation of US$15,000! It was published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with seed funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The proceeds go into a scholarship fund to send Bhutanese students to college abroad. To learn more, click here.  

Keith and I with our friend Nadine in front of our lovely hotel in Thimphu. I was reunited with Nadine on this trip, seven years after our soul-stirring trip in Tibet.

Our first two days in Bhutan gave us a great introduction to the richness of the country’s cultural and religious tradition and preservation. We looked forward to witness and experience more of the Bhutanese way of life as we headed to the countryside.


Linking to Travel Photo Thursday and Oh, the PLACES I’ve been!

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About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

64 responses to “Thimphu, Bhutan (Part 2): The Archery, Chorten, Artisans and More

    • Marisol

      Awww…Jackie, thank you! Such a compliment coming from you – who have seen and experienced a lot.

    • Marisol

      Thanks a lot, Muza-chan!

  1. Johanna

    The colours, the art, the culture and the beautiful crafts – you’ve really brought Bhutan alive for me today.

    • Marisol

      Hi Johanna, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Great reportage, Marisol! I love archery from my childhood. Would love to see this kind of competition. Especially with “victory dances” :) And I am in love with Asian crafting… This day seems like a dream day for me :) Thanks for sharing!

    • Marisol

      Oh, Leigh, thanks! It’s really such a compliment coming from you and Jackie. One of our goals is to be cool hikers like you and John:)

  3. Agness

    An archery competition? That sounds like an amazing experience. I saw it only in Robbin Hood’s movies. So jealous. I can’t believe how much Bhutan can offer to its visitors. I’ll definitely try to make it there soon x
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    • Marisol

      Hello Agness, oh you have to see an archery match when you get to Bhutan. Truly is an amazing experience. Yes, Bhutan has so much to offer and I don’t think we had seen enough of them.

  4. Johanna

    I so enjoyed the colour and variety of this post – Bhutan is so vibrant with culture, art and craft, and exotic herbal medicine that it just calls to be explored, so thank you for taking me on a virtual tour. (By the way, I commented yesterday, but it doesn’t seem to have appeared. Just worried that perhaps that comment and my previous comments on your posts have headed to spam?)
    Johanna recently posted..How to be more active without really tryingMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks again Joanna! Glad you enjoyed the virtual tour.
      (Thanks for bringing the missing comment to my attention. Checked my spam folder and you were right it was there. I released it and I hope it won’t happen again.)

  5. I love the photo of the guy at the painting school, he’s so intense and focused! This must have been such an incredible trip for you guys!
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted..4 Simple Goals…Before 2014My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Jess, it was a very amazing trip indeed. Yes, those painting students are pretty intense and you can see it in the result of their work.

  6. Yet another lovely post with stunning photos and a destination that I know very little about. The archery competition looks like so much fun – I never would have guessed that archery was the national sport of Bhutan! I love the colourful outfits and the fact that they do a victory dance for teammates every time the target is hit – well that’s just awesome!
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted..Kensington Gardens in PhotosMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thank you, Lisa! We learned that somehow archery has historical link to Buddhism. A lot of Buddhist historical heroes used bows and arrows during their time. Yes, victory dance and song was a lot of fun.

  7. I just love these colorful glimpses of Bhutan you’re giving us. I haven’t been very familiar with the traditions and culture there. Such skill and artistry of the craftspeople! How fun to be there for the festival, too.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..How to Take Ghostly Travel PhotosMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Cathy, glad you enjoyed the glimpse of Bhutan. It truly is a very colorful culture and they take pride of their artisans.

  8. I didn’t realize that there was so much to do in Bhutan. I think my boys would have been especially interested in the archery competition, and my daughter and I would have enjoyed the celebratory dancing. You really packed in a lot on your first day! As I’m looking through your photos, I see some similarities to Tibet like the prayer wheels but can tell that it’s really it’s own separate culture.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Flying over the HimalayasMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michelle, yes there are so many things to do and see. There will be a lot of things that will interest each member of your family. There is definitely a similarity in their religious practices as most of their teachings came from Tibet.

  9. Kira S.

    Hi M- I’m amazed at the richness of the culture and how much effort they take to preserve every form of it.
    I love your images; they touch my soul. They somehow reminds me of your photos from Tibet from several year ago from you Flickr page, especially the prayers wheels. Do you plan to post your old Flickr pics here? I’d love to see you post your Tibet pics. They’re so beautiful and really soulful, I think you should share it here (since your Flickr acct is private.)

    • Marisol

      Hi Kirs, thanks! I’m pleased that you enjoyed them. You know the Tibet trip was during “pre-K” (before Keith:) period so I don’t really plan to post the trip here. But I just thought of a particular post where I may include some of the photos. How are you doing with photography? Have you been taking more classes?

  10. I look forward every week to learning more about Bhutan and seeing your gorgeous photos. I’m thinking by the end of your posts I’d want to book a trip there with or without the kids :) How cool is that archery competition. Who knew it could be so festive. I love all the arts and crafts you showed us here. the big book is so interesting too. Those paintings are just gorgeous. I can’t get over how stunning their buildings are.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Bone Church Artistry in the Czech RepublicMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Mary, I’m pleased that you’re interested to learn more about Bhutan. It’s such an interesting and colorful culture that it’s really worth learning about. We were overwhelmed by the richness of their artisans and deeply impressed by how much effort they take to preserve them.

    • Marisol

      Hi Aleah, thanks! I hope you get to go soon and meet those nice Bhutanese men wearing skirts:) I’m pretty sure you will take nice photographs.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Rachel. Glad you enjoyed them.

    • Marisol

      Hi Dana, thanks! We really got to see and experience a lot during the first two days. The countryside is just amazing. I hope you’ll enjoy our forthcoming posts.

  11. Bama

    Wow! That chorten looks so intricate and beautiful! Marisol, looking at those detailed colored carvings of the chorten alone makes me want to book the next flight to Bhutan right away! Speaking of archery, it is indeed a profound and integral part of Bhutanese culture. I think it is also the only sport they take part in the Olympics (CMIIW). Lovely photos as always!
    Bama recently posted..A Taste of the ArchipelagoMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Bama, thanks! if you think it looks so intricate on the outside, wait until you see the inside where the paintings and statues are so exquisite. Yes, they compete in archery in the Olympics and in shooting as well.

  12. Mike

    The photos are absolutely beautiful, Marisol! I love archery so that was a great start of the post for me. My jaw dropped at all of the colors in the artwork…wow! I’ve seen it on tv and I’m absolutely fascinated by the traditional method of weaving. Good post! :)
    Mike recently posted..My Top 10 +1 Favorite British ActorsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Mike. If you love archery, you will love traveling in Bhutan where you can see a match anywhere you go. Yes, their colors and artisans are all very fascinating.

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