Indian visitors do not require any special permit to enter Sikkim, but foreigners do require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP). Previously the RAP was known as Inner line permit (ILP) and many locals still use the term ILP, so don’t be confused, ILP and RAP mean the same thing.
If you are an International Traveller, getting RAP is not at all difficult. It is free of charge and is issued from multiple offices in many major Indian cities as well as at the Bengal-Sikkim border. We recommend you do not wait for the permit to be issued at the border as during an official holiday or beyond office hours, you may have trouble obtaining the RAP there. We have had some rare cases where our guests had to stay on the Bengal side for an extra night due to permit issues. So we recommend getting it done in advance from one of the offices.
Citizens of Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Nigeria are not issued RAP in the ordinary course. They have to apply through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India for the permit. General tourists from these countries may find it challenging to obtain the RAP.
Citizens of Bangladesh also were previously not allowed RAP in ordinary courses. However, this restriction has been withdrawn now. Citizens of Bangladesh and Nepal can easily obtain RAP by just producing any valid ID that mentions their place of origin.
If you are an Indian visitor, you can enter Sikkim without any restriction, but be sure to carry ID proof with you. Checking at the Bengal Sikkim border is common and you might be required to show your Indian ID proof.
Sikkim can be divided into 4 areas depending on accessibility to tourists.
a) Area you are allowed to visit, without restriction.
b) Area you are allowed to visit, with a Protected Area Permit (PAP)
c) Area-only Indian citizens are allowed to visit, with a Protected Area Permit (PAP)
d) Area that tourists are not allowed to visit.
Sikkim is divided into 4 districts, East, West, South and North. Let us discuss the restriction on a district-to-district basis.
South Sikkim is the easiest to visit and entirely falls in category (a) above. Anyone from India or Abroad can visit any part of South Sikkim without any restriction. The reason is that South Sikkim is not close to any international border.
North Sikkim on the other hand is the most restrictive area for tourist visits. All of North Sikkim beyond Singhik have some restrictions on travel. Lachung and Lachen are the most popular destinations of North Sikkim, both of which can be visited by both Indians and Foreigners with a PAP. Lachen is the base for visiting Gurudongmar Lake. Foreign tourists are not allowed to visit the lake as it is close to the Indo-Tibet border. Indian tourists may visit Gurudongmar but they are also not allowed to travel beyond Gurudongmar Lake to the Tso Lhamo lake area. From Lachung both Indian and foreign tourists can visit Yumthang Valley. But beyond Yumthang Valley tourists are not allowed to go. Sometimes some of these rules are broken by the drivers, however, we would not recommend going into the restricted area by paying a little extra to the driver which can land you in big trouble.
The Dzongu area of North Sikkim is a reserved area for the Lepcha people. The Lepcha is the aborigine of the state. The Dzongu area can be visited with a special permit. These permits are arranged by homestay owners and tour operators of Dzongu.
If you are a foreigner, you must visit North Sikkim as a part of a group of at least 2 people, you must also be accompanied by a guide during your North Sikkim tour.
In East Sikkim, you can visit most of the areas without restriction. However as you get closer to the international border, the restriction increases. Tsongo Lake and Baba Mandir are popular tourist sightseeing points which both Indian and foreign nationals may visit, but just ahead of Tsongo Lake is the location of Nathual Pass which connects India with Tibet. This pass can be reached only by Indian tourists with special permits. Foreigners are not allowed. Another popular tourist area in East Sikkim is the Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley area, commonly known as the Silk Route. The permit for the Silk Route is issued either from the Rangli police outpost or from the Gangtok tourism office. This permit is issued only to Indian nationals. Except for the border area between Lingtham and Tsongo Lake, the rest of the East district is open to foreign tourists.
The West district is also generally open to Indian and foreign nationals. There are two popular trek routes in the area. One is the Dzongri trek, also known as the Kanchenjunga base camp trek, and the other is a trek to Singalila National Park. Both treks can be done by an Indian as well as a foreign national with a permit from the Adventure cell of the tourism department of Sikkim.
For further information, you may contact our experts for consultation.