The Shillong archery lottery

Shillong is in Meghalaya state in the North East of India. I went there on my trip to the Khasi Hills region to see the living root bridges. As a town, there is not much of interest for the foreign tourist. Indian visitors come here in ever increasing numbers, seeking out shopping, cool air and to 'discover' an area that is still fairly detached from the rest of India, but otherwise, it doesn't have too much of interest.

However, there is one curious, and rather intriguing spectacle that occurs here, and I went to find out about it.

The archers get ready for 2nd shoot of the day.

All over Shillong there are thousands of little stalls, selling lottery tickets. These ticket sellers are licensed and it seems that most people have a flutter. The principal is simple; you select a number between 1 - 100 and decide how much you want to put down, usually between five and 50 rupees. If you get the winning number, you win 60 X your stake. So you have a one in a hundred chance to win 60 rupees for each one rupee you put down.

One of the many ticket counters where you can place your bet.

Each day, first at 4pm and then again at 4.30pm, groups of archers meet at the Shillong Archery shooting ground for what must be the most unique lottery draw anywhere in the world. I spoke to many people and got a variety of accounts as to what exactly happens (as is the norm in India), but it seems that there are number of different clubs that take turns to come and shoot. At each session, 20 archers from three different clubs line up to shoot their arrows at a target. So there are 60 archers in total.

Once the word is given, they all fire in rapid succession in to the target.

An archer lines up, ready to fire in to the target.

The shooting is over quickly and finishes when a group of men lift a large hessian type cover in front of the target so that no more arrows can land in it.

This is how the target looks after they have finished shooting. The gentleman on the right was officiating proceedings.

It seemed that each club had different coloured flights on their arrows. Once the shooting was over, the crowd rushed up to inspect the result. Some think they can guess the outcome accurately and dash back to place last minute bets. A couple of elders, or officials, stood over the target while preparations were made for the next stage.

Now the business end of the event. The arrows are counted.

All arrows were removed from the target and were counted in to groups of ten. The chap in the middle is counting and bunching them up. Then each group of ten was handed to another official (seen on the left of the picture) who mounted each group of arrows in to a kind of rack.

The final act. The last arrows are thrown back in to the arena.

Finally, the counting official throws the last of the arrows, ceremoniously, back in to the centre of the field. Once the finally tally is made, the hundreds are ignored and the final winning number for the lottery is arrived at. So, for example, if a total of 318 arrows are counted. The winning number is 18.

It was a fascinating event. Although it was taken seriously everyone there was good natured and incredibly friendly. Most of them don't ever remember seeing a foreign tourist. If you are in Shillong it's well worth going down and joining in the fun. However, it is tricky to find, as most locals only seem to have a vague idea where it is. Confusingly, it's often referred to as the Polo ground, but Polo is the name of the area and it doesn't seem to refer to a ground where they play Polo!

From Police Bazar or Bara Bazar, a taxi will cost 100 IRS. The entrance is down a little side alley off the main street. If you get to the general area and can't see it just keep asking, eventually someone will point you the right way. Persevere, it's worth it.

No, I didn't win but if willpower could have made any difference I probably would have, everyone was genuinely hoping I was going to pick the winning number! They all wanted me to have a good momento of the event but it wasn't necessary.

This is the sign over the entrance.