The southern circuit is actually the ecological hub of the country. In this promotion we have highlighted the two districts of Sarpang and Zhemgang. Zhemgang is ideal for nature oriented tours though the cultural highlights are irresistible. The famous Dunmang hot spring is in Zhemgang district. The other hot spring that is highlighted is in Sarpang district. Other tour activities are the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, the Royal Manas National Park, the tropical fruits and numerous species of medicinal plants and the culture of the Khengpas and the Lhotsampas. The Lhotsampas are the ethnic race of Nepalese origin, settled in the southern part of Bhutan. Mostly Hindus, their rituals and festivals are very colourful. Traversing the realm of Kheng culture, Inhabitants of Zhemgang are culturally called the Khengpas. The region remained closed to tourism for many years. In the recent years only a small part was opened for bird watching. This newly opened region is the jewel of tourism in Bhutan. Zhemgang people here are grouped under three regions of upper, middle and lower Kheng. If you are interested in the last of the animist traditions in Bhutan, this is the region. They invariably celebrate a number of shamanistic practices which is locally known as Bon. Khengpas are adept artisans and are known for their bamboo products like wine containers, baskets, matted bamboo carpets South circuit. In the good old days this region cultivated a substantial amount of cotton, a major part paid as tax to the government, besides textiles woven out of cotton. Historically there are traces of the advent of Guru Rinpoche (from the 8th century) though visible records can be seen mostly from the 15th century.
Temples like Buli lhakhang in Buli village and Tharpa Choeling is associated with the treasure revealers Terton Pema Lingpa who is famous for the Peling tradition of Buddhism. The Bhutanese Royal Family is a direct descendent of Pema Lingpa. Traditionally, the Kheng region was divided into three regions of Chikhor (Uper Kheng), Nangkhor (Middle Kheng) and Tamachok (Lower Kheng).
Chikor (upper kheng)
Chikhor or upper Kheng comprised of eleven villages of Nimshong, Thashong, Zangling, Thrisa, Bardo, Khomshar, Langdurbi, Digala, Radhi. Wamling and Shingkhar. All of these eleven villages fall in the upper Kheng.
Nangkor (middle kheng)
Nangkhor or Middle Kheng consists of nine villages situated between the Mangde River and Dakphay and Dunmang villages. The villages are Dakphay, Norbugang, Kikhar, Tali, Buli, Goling, Zhobling, Nyakhar and Tsheldang. This region had four noble families in the past.
Tamachok/Matpala lower kheng)
The villages of Bjokha, Dali, Panbang, Nangla, Goshing, Shidrong Toed, Phangkhar, Edi, Mamung, Gomphu, Subrang, Zurphel, Tshangla Jong and Berti below Tama and above Bjokha villages form the Tamachok or the Matpala villages.
Experience the colours of Sarpang festivals
The inhabitants of Sarpang are a mixture of almost every ethnic group in Bhutan comprising of the Sharchopas, Ngalops, Bumthaps, Khengpas, Kurtoeps and then Lhotshampas. The vastness of agricultural land has enticed many farmers to Sarpang. Majority of the inhabitants are the Lhotshampas and nature worshippers which makes a great diversity of cultural experiences. The summer months are not recommended due to heat and humidity of the region. Let us reveal the colours of the fall festivities or mesmerize you with some animist rituals. Sarpang district is one of the newly opened destinations when Gelephug was made feasible for entry and exit of tourists. At the moment Gelephug is the only destination opened for cultural highlights and also has a domestic airport.
Explore the South Circuit’s Natural side
We often call the southern circuit as the hub of Bhutan’s unique nature trips. Talk of Zhemgang, we have the endemic species of primates called the Golden Langur. Next we have the Rufous-necked Hornbill which is another specialty. It is the only circuit where we can watch wild gaurs, elephants, rhinos, tigers, clouded leopard and any you would want to see in a tropical jungle.
Festival of the Foothills (started in Jan 2018 venue Gelephug Public Ground)
The festival is mainly focused in enhancing local economy. There will be full display of livestock, agriculture and horticulture products. Unique cultural events will also be displayed. Sporting events marathon, cross country cycling, walkathon & strong men competition will be conducted. There will be display of unique food items Annual event, tourist can witness unique dances, taste the unique food items of the Dzongkhag.
Zhemgang’s altitude rises from 300m to almost 3000m above sea level. This makes a good haven for fl ower enthusiasts from spring till early summer. Sarpang is basically a low land region and the best known fl owers in these regions are the tropical orchids.
Summer is the bane of tourism in the southern circuit. Due to monsoon rains, tours to these regions can be restrictive. Otherwise spring, autumn and winter are ideal bird watching months in the southern circuit. Zhemgang itself is a haven for many specialties in the Himalayas. Almost all the extinct species in the north-east Himalayas are still seen in the south circuit.
Highlights are endemic Golden Langur, tigers, clouded leopards, elephants, wild gaurs and many more. Manas is accessible from Zhemgang as well as from Sarpang. Excursions on the great Royal Manas Park and Kayaking on the Manas River is the highlight. As for Sarpang, the highlight will be Phibsoo Wildlife sanctuary. Do not expect 5 star hotels in these areas though tented camps will be readily available.
Explore the Kheng region on foot and you will be surprised to see a world you have not seen. Some villages still live traditionally in bamboo huts roofed in traditional bamboo leaves. Water is still being carried in small bamboo containers. The remoteness of Zhemgang region is itself a trekker’s delight. Explore the unexplored that is the watch word. As for Sarpang the best trekking route available is the one to the Royal Manas National park.
Finding the Balance through body and spiritual wellness Meditation retreat
If you are looking for advanced retreats then let the far-fl ung remote villages of Zhemgang give you the respite. The tranquillity and almost medieval agrarian life style will soothe anybody from a busy metropolitan life.
Hot spring therapy
Dumang in Zhemgang and Gelephug are the only hot springs in the south circuit. Introducing the Royal Manas
Established in 1964, the Royal Manas National Park is the oldest park in the country. The royal decree of keeping forest cover between 60-70% has helped to preserve the subtropical ecosystem. Manas starts at 150m above sea level which is the lowest region in Bhutan. Manas is the best habitat for Tiger, Asian Elephant, Rhino, Leopard, Water Buff alo,Bison, Samber, Hog Deer, Pigmy Hog, Python, King Cobra, and over 430 species of birds. Head for experiences and explore Manas on boat, elephant rides or on foot. There are many exciting places to visit and experience. We have drawn out an introductory access to Manas from Gelephug though one can also enter Manas from Trongsa by arriving to Gonphu.
Entering Manas from Gelephu
Gelephu (Sarpang district) Gomphu (Zhemgang)
Gelephu under Sarpang district, at one time,was called Hati Zar due to high population of elephants. Gelephu is at 280m above sea level and is the largest fl at land in Bhutan. Take the 150km drive from Gelephu to Gonphu and enjoy the ascent from 280m-1450m. We pass through Surey village where mandarin and cardamom farming is the main cultivation.
From Surey we can also see Jo Dungshing peak on clear days. This peak is the highest in the Black Mountain range. It will be nice to break the journey and camp at Chaplikhola which is under good forest cover. This is the northern most tip of the Royal Manas Park.The area gets maximum rainfall in the country. This makes the area a thriving sub-tropical ecosystem. This is the haven for wildlife such as tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, samber, and large number of bird species. Driving through Chaplikhola we continue through the forest until Tamala pass (2500m). There are few households here and halting here to look for Royal Bengal tigers would be a nice idea. This is the main tiger habitat. Next we drive further to Tingtibi along the national highway. Tingtibi is located at an altitude of 600m in a narrow valley by the side of Mangdichu River (the river that runs from the district of Trongsa and joins Manas). Tingtibi is also the junction where the Royal Manas Park boundaries meet the Jigme Singgye Wangchuck National Park. Tingtibi is the best place to camp for bird watchers. From here we take the farm road to Gongphu. 50 kilometres of bumpy drive on a 4wd. Gongphu is also the crossroad from which one takes the two hours walk to Dunmany hot spring.
Gomphu – Mamung – Pantang
Gear up your bags and start the five hours walk to Pantang village. We will be descending almost 1200m. On the way stop by at Paibang and Mamung villages. Except for the few remnants of shifting cultivation, the forest cover is seen well preserved.From Mamung we get to the broad leaved evergreens all the way till Pantang located near the Mangdechhu River. It is quite a place to camp at 280m above sea level.
Pantang – Changna Zam
Take a gradual walk through Phangkhar village located on the other side of the Mangdechhu River. Continue through and cross to Goshing village using the suspension bridge called Phangkhar Zam. The next village is called Shilingtey. The views are terrifi c but the steep drop from Shilintey to our camp is something to be careful of. It is so steep that a miscalculated step could lead to disaster.
Changnga Zam– Manas
We are heading to Panbang which functions as sub-district headquarter for surrounding Zhemgang villages. It takes three hours through open grasslands following the Mangdechhu River. On the way ask for the fi rst village of Reepatey to avoid losing your trail. Once you reach Panbang the choice is three fold: you can walk, drive or take wooden boat ride to reach Manas epicentre. It is a 12km drive and may take another forty fi ve minutes. On foot it might take few hours but the boat ride takes only thirty minutes. Many prefer boat rides to enjoy the scenic beauty and watch birds.
To Gelephu from Manas –Baltegurung
Start early to enjoy wildlife watch. We are heading for Sukunjan and then proceed to Baltegurung camp. Today is the day to watch water buff aloes and wild gaurs and other magnifi cent ungulates. We are walking through the grasslands which are ideal habitat for Tigers. This stretch starts from Galongkhola and ends within the Kanamakra vicinity. Within few hours we reach Goburkunda where a stream fl ows through. Let us stop here for lunch and also take an opportunity to watch wildlife. Many creatures come here to enjoy the benefi ts from this stream. After a good rest follow the trail to Sukunjan through the grassland. Continue to Baltegurung which is close to two hours from Sukunjan. The riverbeds of Batlegurung have some salt deposits and wild animals love to lick. The saltlick gives us a great opportunity to watch animals.
Start the day towards Teendoban which is close to two hours walk through the grassland. This is where you can watch wild elephants and also the rare Kaula trees. The bark of Kaula trees are used in indigenous medicine and are highly sought after. We are very close to the Indian borders so be alert. Sometimes tourists and poachers meet accidentally. This becomes a moment of scaring each other. From Teendoban we walk through the grassland till Kuklung where we luncheon by the riverside. After lunch walk for another two hours through grassland and some forests of hardwood trees.
There are large black soil-lick areas on the riverbeds of Kanamakra. This is the favourite spot for elephants and ungulates. In summer months Kanamakra is cut off for at least fi ve months and reaching here becomes diffi cult. During the winter months Kanamakra River becomes a haven for aquatic lives.
Kanamakra – Umling – Gelephu
We head towards Umling via an abandoned sugarcane plantation. The plantation was stopped because this region was inhabited by wild elephants. If you are in hurry, you can drive 29km to Umling and then another 12km to Gelephu. Do not do this in summer because Mao Khola River stands powerful.