North East India is hosting an increasingly higher number of travelers every year. Yet, many, who think of visiting the region, get disheartened by the additional paperwork involved. But. Did you know that only 2-3 out of 8 states mandate such permits and that procuring these is easier than you think? Abhijeet Deshpande, author of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey, shares tips on how Indians and foreigners can get travel permits to North East India.
For those who do not know, North East India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow. That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
Good News First
Indians require Inner Line Permits (ILPs) for only three out of eight states: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram. On the other hand, foreigners (including Overseas Citizens of India or OCI card holders) require Protected Area Permits (PAPs) for only Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. In Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland, foreigners are required to make a simple police-registration (often facilitated by guest houses or travel guides) within 24 hours of arrival. Lastly, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura do not mandate any travel permit for Indians or foreigners. How about we simplify all the above with a visual?
The process to acquire these permits is fairly straightforward but the permit-requirement itself is subject to change (reviewed annually). It is best to browse through links provided in this article for current status, related fees, restrictions for certain nationalities, etc.
Indian Travelers in North East India
If you visit a state’s Resident Commissioner’s office to apply for Inner Line Permits, you may get to consult official tourism literature and potential access to expert advise on locations to go to. Alternatively, you may apply for an ILP on arrival (see details for each state), or where available, use the online facility. Depending on how and where you apply for a permit, and whether it is peak season or not, it may take from a few hours to a few days.
For each state, the maximum duration of validity of ILPs may be different and these can be extended by visiting the nearest concerned office (usually the Deputy Commissioners’ Office). While ILPs for Mizoram and Nagaland allow travel anywhere in the respective states, Arunachal Pradesh requires you to declare specific tourism circuits (places you intend to travel to in the state) and proposed dates of travel. Hence, for Arunachal Pradesh, it is recommended to research and plan your tentative itinerary before applying for permits.
Any Permit for Manipur?
No. Indians do not require a permit to travel to Manipur – either when flying direct or when traveling on land from Silchar (Cachar District, Assam) to Imphal (Manipur) via the hills of Jiribam. Please see map below. Beware, this route is not for the faint-hearted. The infrastructure is minimalist. Dusty paths and recurring security checks make this a slow, bumpy 9+ hours ride. It is not a recommended route. But, it remains as an alternative – if you do not have a valid ILP for Nagaland (that offers a direct and nicer Kohima-Imphal highway). Should you choose to ride a shared taxi via Jiribam, for whatever reason, you are likely to witness indigenous communities, their lifestyles, and have a chance to try their delicious food.
Foreign Travelers in North East India
As mentioned before, foreigners (including Overseas Citizens of India or OCI card holders) require Protected Area Permits (PAPs) for only Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Whereas in Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland, foreigners are required to make a simple police-registration (often facilitated by guest houses or travel guides) within 24 hours of arrival. Attention, solo travelers – permits are issued to groups of two or more. So, find at least one more fellow traveler to apply for a PAP to Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
To plan ahead and get permits before you begin international travel, you may consult the Indian Mission in your home country. Please note that for Arunachal Pradesh, you will need to declare the specific tourism circuits (places you intend to travel to in the state) and the proposed dates of travel. Hence, it is recommended to research and plan your tentative itinerary before applying for a permit to this state. To learn more about the requirements for and process of PAPs/RAPs, refer to these FAQs.
Special Permits for Sikkim’s Restricted Areas
To visit North Sikkim or other protected areas along international borders, both Indians and foreigners will need special permits issued through registered travel agencies. At the time of writing, certain areas such as Nathula or Gurudongmar Lake are open for Indians only (permits required for Sikkim locals too) – a point to remember if you are with a group of international travelers. For details and current status, consult Sikkim Tourism’s FAQs.
Think North East India
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in North East India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Travel permits are a matter of routine. Think beyond.
Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices. Buy now!
Note: This piece is meant to help fellow travelers explore North East India. The information herein is dynamic. If you come across a revision to these rules, please leave a comment for us to update the article. Thank you.
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