Southern Bhutanese or Lhotshampa speak Nepali as their first language. Samchi, Chirang and Geylegphug are southern dzongkhags that have a large Lhotshampa community where most people speak Nepali. In southern Bhutan, Nepali used to be taught in the school and was spoken and written next to Dzongkha (national language) in these areas.
Traditionally, the Lhotshampa have been involved mostly in sedentary agriculture, although some have cleared forest cover and conducted tsheri and slash and burn agriculture. The Lhotshampa are generally classified as Hindus. However, this is an oversimplification as many groups that include Tamang and the Gurung are largely Buddhist; the Kiranti groups that include the Rai and Limbu are largely animist followers of Mundhum (these latter groups are mainly found in eastern Bhutan). Whether they are Hindu or Tibetan Buddhist, most of them abstain from beef, notably those belonging to the orthodox classes who are vegetarians. Their main festivals include Dashain and Tihar, a festival superficially similar to the Indian Diwali.
The southern part of Bhutan is the ecological hub of the country. It comprises of 7 districts, namely Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, Zhemgang and Pemagatshel. Currently, tourists can only visit Sarpang and part of Zhemgang.
The main tour activities and attractions includes the Phibsoo Widlife Sanctuary, the Royal Manas National Park, the tropical fruits, numerous species of medicinal plants, and the culture of Khengpas and the Lhotsampas. Besides, one is able to participate in spiritual festivals which include some rare animist rituals and Bon practices.
The vastness of agricultural land has attracted many farmers to Sarpang. Hence, the inhabitants of Sarpang comprises of almost every ethnic group of Bhutan.This is the only place in south where one can watch gaurs, elephants, rhinos, tigers, clouded leopard and whatever you would see in a tropical jungle.
The summer months in Sarpang are hot and humidity. In autumn, you will be mesmerized by the local animist rituals. Currently, Gelephug is the only destination in Sarpang for cultural highlights. Hot springs are found in Sarpang district.
Inhabitants of Zhemgang are culturally called the Khengpas. The villages and people of Zhemgang are divided into 3 regions : namely Chikhor (upper Kheng), Nangkhor (middle Kheng) and Tamachok (lower Kheng). Their bamboo products like wine containers, baskets, matted bamboo carpets and other cane products are rather well-known in Bhutan.
In Zhemgang, you will have a chance to watch the endemic species of primates called the Golden Langur. Rufous-necked Hornbill is another species. As Zhemgang’s altitude rises from 300 metres to almost 3,000 metres above sea level, this makes it a good haven for flower enthusiasts from spring till early summer. On the other hand, Sarpang is basically a low land region, which is best known for tropical orchids.
The ideal periods for bird watching are spring, autumn and winter. One is able to see most of the extinct species in the north-east Himalayas.
The Royal Manas National Park (the oldest national park in Bhutan) is accessible from Gelephug in Sarpang or Gomphu in Zhemgang. The royal decree of keeping the forest cover between 60% to 70% has helped to preserve the sub-tropical ecosystem. On the lowest region of the park, it is the best habitat for tiger, Asian elephant, rhino, leopard, water buffalo, bison, hog deer, pigmy hog, python, King cobra and over 430 species of birds.