Taking Archery Lessons in Thamel
Archery is not something you would often associate with Kathmandu or Nepal. It does have a long history in Nepal just as it has around the world. Hunting both on foot and on horse Nepalese archers were once prolific with a bamboo bow and arrow. Then came progress and it slipped back into rural life and out of the mainstream.
Today sporting archery is making a comeback in Nepal. Though there are several archery clubs around Kathmandu it was always difficult for me to get to them due to congestion and distance. At the end of December 2015 this all changed with a new archery range opening up in Thamel. I’d been waiting for them to open for months. Finally when they did it was worth the wait and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
Archery at the indoor sports arena
The indoor archery range is located in North Thamel. Nobody really knows the place. So ask for “Indoor Sports Arena”, “Indoor Football Arena” or lastly try “Indoor Fussball” – for some reason everyone gets this. Lastly it’s located in my Kathmandu city and Kathmandu Valley guidebook maps :)
They are open from 11am until about 6pm when the indoor football people take over (though sometimes archery is also held in the evenings – so do ask). Saturdays are super busy but during the week it’s much quieter.
Getting trained by two of Nepal’s best women archers
There’s a high level of professionalism at the archery range which is great. Moreover it’s got a very strong presence of national level female archers. The first person I was introduced to was Gyanu Awale a former national level archer who represented Nepal in 2012 and has been practicing archery since 2008. She’s also the first qualified women’s coach in Nepal. She would be my Guru (teacher).
Meanwhile, her younger sister Aisha Tamang who is only 17 years has risen to become one of Nepal’s top archers. She began at the young age of 12 while following Gyanu to practice in Patan. What followed was a friendly rivalry between the two sisters. Both will readily admit to being better than the other one!
Both ladies have competed both nationally and internationally. Seeing Gyanu shoot with a 36 pound bow compared to my 16 pounder is a daunting thing. Watching small framed Aisha shoot with a 40 pound bow is outright intimidating.
The sound of 40 pound recurve bow firing an arrow is powerfully impressive
Both ladies are excellent coaches with Gyanu now working full time at the archery range while Aisha continues her business degree during the day.
The range also attracts several national level coaches who are happy to give tutelage at no charge. It’s not uncommon for high level archers from Nepal (male and female) along with Korea to visit on a daily basis.
Archery equipment available
The archery equipment is all new. The bows are recurve bows (sporting bows) and come in 16 pound, 22 pound on up to 40 pound. There are no compound or hunting bows here which is a shame as I’d like to have tried a different type of bow.
The recurve bows have modern sights and you get kitted out with a chest guard, arm guard and finger guard. These are all necessary to prevent damaging yourself from the bow strings. They are also mandatory as safety is taken seriously here.
There are 9m, 18m and 30 meter targets. Most newbies start with 9m and 16 pound bows. There are left and right handed bows available.
My first archery lessons
I’ve always wanted to learn archery. I learned to shoot a gun in The Philippines and was an Alpha grade shooter. But I’m not fond of guns and wanted to try something more natural.
I thought archery would be similar. But, it’s very different to a gun range. The skill needed is multi-dimensional and very much focused on a strong mental attitude.
First is the stance. This bit was the easiest. Next came the loading of the arrow on the bow. One quickly needs to learn to keep the end of the bow on your foot when mounting the arrow. Then it’s positioning the arrow along a runner and then locking into the nock while making sure the fetching (feathers) are lined correctly.
Next came drawing back the bow and arrow. All easy until Gyanu corrected just about everything I thought was correct. My left arm needed to be locked but not tight. My left shoulder needed to be relaxed yet turned back. Something I still struggle with. Then came my right hand which had one finger above the arrow, two below at the first joint when thumb and little finger remained relaxed.
Aiming meant pulling back to my jawline while lining up the string with the bow sight and the distant yellow bulls-eye. Even releasing the arrow takes skill. One must keep drawing back to make sure the arrow’s flight is accurate.
I hit the blue. “Not bad,” said Gyanu . This would be our mantra for the next few weeks. I was always “not bad.” Not good. Just not bad.
I really enjoyed this new skill I was “not bad” at so I bought a 10 hour package.
After many hours of archery
After 11 hours of archery lessons I still struggled. Sometimes “not bad”, most of the time not good.
Both Gyanu and Aisha have very different styles with a great sister rivalry. Gyanu is better at indoor archery. While Aisha is excellent at long range archery. Aisha likes to have me push my right hand right into my throat for stability. I’ve come out of archery with bruising! That’s me though. I don’t like to be “Not bad”. I want to be better.
After one particular session I became very discouraged. I just couldn’t group my arrows (keep them in a cluster). No matter how hard I tried one arrow would always fly off and hit the outer target.
Real archery is nothing like what happens on a popular TV series or movie – apparently these super heroes don’t fire correctly!
Gyanu is extremely patient though and we continued to work together improving my stance and release. Her coach was also very helpful and I studied archery videos and techniques.
Finally on lesson 12 I got it. Thumb hooked under my jaw bone. Shoulder rotated to the left. String over the red sight lined up with the bulls-eye. Mind clear. A smooth release and the strong “thwak” of the bow-string and arrow. Red, yellow, yellow, red, red, red. There are points to these colors but I was finally grouping around the center!
Archery is my peace in the storm of Kathmandu
I go to archery to relax. If I’m tense or under pressure before going by the time I leave my mind is clear. If I am very stressed my first few shots are bad. Then my mind clears and I’m grouping yellow (10-9 points) and red 8. I still get the odd 7 (blue) but I’m still learning.
Today, Gyanu promoted me to a 22 pound bow (finally). I’m still way behind Gyanu and her sister Aisha’s 40 pound bows and their laser like accuracy. But I’m having fun in this peaceful place in the middle of busy Thamel.
It’s great to see more and more activities like this appearing in Nepal. There’s a range in Pokhara too at the national stadium but it’s far away from popular Lakeside.
If you are looking for something to do in Thamel that’s not so touristy. Give archery a try.
Let them know David from The Longest Way Home sent you and you might get some extra free time (tell Gyanu or Samir).
It’s also a great place to see champion women archers practice in this great sport!
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