Bhutan’s archers are sticking with their daily meditation and yoga, but other traditions like bamboo bows are being pushed aside as the country seeks its first ever Asian Games medal.Archery is etched into the fabric of the tiny, Buddhist kingdom, which sits high in the Himalayan mountains and is known for its Gross National Happiness Index.
In a government-backed effort to modernise the national sport, archers spent six months ahead of the Games in intensive training, including a week of acclimatisation in Bangkok and a daily ritual of self-reflection.
“Meditation is good for archery because it is a mental game,” Bhutan’s 26-year-old flag-bearer Karma, who uses only one name, told AFP.
It helps the archer to concentrate and also to relax, she added.
Almost every village in Bhutan has a field dedicated to archery.
Traditionally, archers use bamboo bows and arrows and fire shots at targets almost 145 meters (475 feet) away—more than twice the distance of the Olympic standard.
Boisterous competitions are an age-old fixture, with a group dance performed every time an archer hits the target.
Women rarely pick up a bow at these events, but instead they often line up alongside opposition archers, singing and dancing to distract them.
However, change is afoot in the country sometimes dubbed the happiest place on earth.
The government, which prefers its happiness index to GDP as a measure of development, is determined to retain the tradition in Bhutan’s villages, but is also seeking recognition on the world-stage.
“As time changes, I think the younger generation prefer the new technique,” said Karma, who first picked up a bow about a decade ago.
“As a recurve player, I think it (modern archery) is overtaking the traditional one, because I feel that traditional archery is only played by the older people.”
Traditional archery is “totally different” from the modern game, she said with a chuckle.
Bhutan has never won a medal at any Asian Games, but its eight-strong archery team—six of whom are full time—are tipped to offer its best hope.
“It is our national game, we need to do better in the international tournaments,” team member Tandin Dorji told AFP.
The 32-year-old hoped that with better equipment and training, Bhutan could be up there with Asia’s best in three to five years.
“Archers are always happy, because we are doing what we love,” he said.