Large patches of jungle still exist outside the park in Chitwan’s heavily populated buffer zone, albeit in a less pristine state. The areas designated as community forests were originally conceived to reduce the need for residents of this critical strip to go into the park to gather wood, thatch and other resources, but they’re now nearly as rich in flora and fauna as Chitwan itself. Two forests, Baghmara and Kumroj on the outskirts of Sauraha, offer alternatives to entering the park itself, and the elephant rides, particularly, are often no less rewarding.
Another community forest, the Bis Hajaar Tal (“Twenty Thousand Lakes”) wetland area, is one of the best areas – inside or outside the park – for birdwatching, though the growth of water hyacinth has reduced bird numbers. There are plenty of animals, but it’s one of the few areas of jungle that can be visited independently with relative safety – though, as always, you’ll probably get more out of it in the company of a good guide. Nepal’s second largest natural wetland, the area, provides an important corridor for animals migrating between the Terai and the hills. The name refers to a maze of marshy oxbow lakes, many of them already filled in, well hidden among mature sal trees. The area teems with birds, including storks, kingfishers, eagles and the huge Lesser Adjutant. The forest starts just west of Baghmara and the Elephant Breeding Project and reaches its marshy climax about 5km northwest of there.