Bhutan, a country in the Eastern Himalayas, is known for being a peaceful, happy place. Covering nearly 15,000 square miles and boasting a population of just over 700,000 people, it is not the easiest place for outsiders to go to and soak up happiness.
Singay Wangchuk, a native of Bhutan now living in the greater New York metropolitan area, says air transportation is also limited, so planning your trip six or seven months ahead of time is imperative. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not that difficult to get a visa—it’s just expensive. Depending on the time of year, visas for foreign visitors can cost $200 or $250 per day. Wangchuk says that that fee can cover everything from accommodation and food to an English-speaking tour guide.
He also recommends visiting an archery field, which, he says, are as ubiquitous in Bhutan as basketball courts in the United States. “Talk to people, take pictures, interact,” he says.
Bhutan’s national sport is played by men, women, and children and is just as much a social activity as it is a rigorous sport. Although Wangchuk no longer lives in Bhutan, he has not abandoned his country’s beloved pastime. Wangchuk and other Bhutanese immigrants meet regularly at a field outside Voorhees Township, New Jersey.
The time-honored tradition of archery is passed down from generation to generation. Wangchuk’s father introduced him to the sport, which, he says, is related to Buddhism, the country’s national religion. When he describes the meditative quality involved (“you try to control your mind” as you focus on the target), you start to see what he means.
Archery also helps Bhutanese people like Wangchuck stay connected to traditions. One of those traditions is the goh, a knee-length robe worn by players and tied at the waist. “You’re not allowed to play in pants or shorts,” Wangchuk says.
What happens when someone hits a target? “You celebrate,” Wangchuk says. This takes the form of dancing on the field, dancing that “anyone can learn,” he promises.
Archery is the best way to get to know a country that prides itself on its gross national happiness rather than its gross domestic product.