When I was researching about Sikkim, I had thought the only things that I needed to read up on were places of interest, accommodation and transport logistics. Easy peasey, right? Typical travel planning stuff. However, right from the get go, every travel article on Sikkim mentioned about having a permit to enter Sikkim.
In my mind, applying for permit or anything that is government-related in India equals Big Hassle. And that’s the last thing I needed to deal with when travelling in India. Applying for the travel visa from Malaysia isn’t too bad – visa processing takes only three business days – but I abhor the long queue to hand in the documents. So, I had assumed it would be the same thing when applying for the Sikkim entry permit but I was wrong. It was actually easy and fast.
Why the bureaucratic formalities?
Sikkim is a landlocked north-east state of India, and borders with the Indian state of West Bengal to the south, Nepal to the west, Tibet to the north and east, Bhutan to the east. Due to its proximity to China and the fact that its land border with Tibet is wide open, the entire state of Sikkim is under restricted area regime. Hence, all foreign nationals require the entry permit i.e. Restricted Area Permit (RAP) or also known as the Inner Line Permit (ILP).
What is the Restricted Area Permit or Inner Line Permit?
The entry permit is a piece of paper containing your passport data and is valid for 15 days. Upon entering and exiting Sikkim, your passport and the permit will be stamped – it’s like crossing international borders but you’re still in India.
During your travels in Sikkim, you must keep this entry permit with you at all times, in the event you need to produce for identification purposes.
How to apply for the entry permit?
There are a few ways to apply for the entry permit, but I’m only familiar with the following three ways based on my own personal experience and observations.
1. Upon crossing Sikkim state border by road en route to Gangtok (state capital) or East Sikkim: At Rangpo checkpost.
2. In Darjeeling: At the District Magistrate’s Office.
Prior to the District Magistrate’s Office, you have to apply for the permit at the Foreigners’ Registration Office.
Then you bring the application form and your personal documents to the District Magistrate’s Office.
I applied for my permit in Darjeeling with guidance from my guesthouse host who offered to walk with me to these two offices. I reckon you probably won’t need your accommodation hosts to walk with you but should you need guidance, I’m pretty sure your hosts would be able to assist you as they are very familiar with the Sikkim formalities and many travellers often stay in Darjeeling en route to Gangtok.
3. At the time of Indian travel visa application
I remember seeing this on the visa application form. Although my travel dates in Sikkim were more or less fixed, I chose not to apply for the permit from the India visa centre in Malaysia just in case there were some changes to my travel dates while travelling in India.
What documents do I need to produce when applying for the entry permit?
1. Passport & Indian travel visa
2. Two copies of the passport and visa.
3. Two passport photos.
I brought three copies. There’s a high likelihood that you will be travelling to other parts of Sikkim apart from Gangtok, thus your travel agency or travel representative requires another copy of your passport and visa and passport photo.
Should you forget to bring an extra copy, don’t fret because there are many Xerox shops available to make another copy. However, do bring more than two passport photos.
Any fees or charges for the entry permit?
No fees or charges. It’s free of cost.
Do I have to wait a long time while the permit is being processed?
No, it’s a quick process especially at Rangpo, only ten minutes if there are not too many foreigners in the queue.
However, my experience in Darjeeling was a little longer because the district offices are only opened after 10am or 10.30am. And it’s a 15 minutes’ walk between the Foreigners’ Registration Office and the Magistrate’s Office (because of the steep uphill walk). By the time it’s done, it would be mid-day. Having said that, it isn’t too bad a process especially if you are in Darjeeling for a few days, so you have plenty of time to kill.
Since Sikkim is under restricted area regime, there are certain areas within the state which are defined as Protected Areas and have special army deployment. As a result, these areas could be off-limits for foreigners, or foreigners require a separate permit called the Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit those places.
You do not need to apply for the PAP but your travel representative will help to apply for you as long you produce your entry permit (RAP/ILP). Hence, the RAP/ILP is THE document that you must have in order to enter and to travel in Sikkim.
Are you planning a trip to Sikkim? If so, is this guide helpful for you?