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Foreigners need to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (RAP; previously known as an Inner Line Permit or ILP) to visit Sikkim. Permits can now be obtained online at sikkimilp.in, or in advance along with your Indian visa, but agencies abroad charge exorbitant fees so are best avoided. If obtained within India, Sikkim permits are free and can be arranged through the tourism agencies listed below, trekking operators, or on arrival at the state border. Permits are date-specific and initially valid for thirty days from entry (no return within three months); extensions are normally available up to a maximum of sixty days.
As well as Gangtok and its surroundings in East Sikkim, the RAP covers all of South Sikkim and most areas in the east and west of the state, apart from most high-altitude treks. Sensitive border areas, like Tsomgo Lake (also known as Changu or Tsangu) in East Sikkim, most of North Sikkim except for Mangan and its immediate vicinity, and all high-altitude treks including the Singalila Ridge and Dzongri, require the additional Protected Area Permit (PAP; see below); foreigners can only enter these areas in groups of at least two accompanied by representatives of approved travel agents who arrange the permits.
Permits can be instantly acquired at the Sikkim border at Melli and Rangpo; go to the tourist office for an application form and then cross the road to have it registered by the police. If you are arriving via Darjeeling, obtain your permit there. In order to apply, you’ll need two passport photographs, and photocopies of your passport and visa.
High-altitude trekking in Sikkim remains a restricted and expensive business. Firstly, foreigners have to acquire trekking permits (aka Protected Area Permits or PAP), which also act as entry permits for these areas. These are only available from the Sikkim Tourism offices in Gangtok, but can be arranged through trek operators.
Carefully check documents and itineraries – you don’t want to be rushed, especially at altitude – before you set off. Trekking parties consist of a minimum of two people; tour operators charge an official daily rate of US$60 to US$150 per head per day, depending on group size and route.
While most major peaks require permission from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) in Delhi with at least three months’ notice, as well as mountaineering permits, the Sikkim government, through the appropriate Gangtok trekking operator, hands out permits for the following treks: Frey’s Peak (5830m) near Chaurikhang on the Singalila Ridge; Thingchenkang (6010m) near Dzongri and Jopuno (5935m) in West Sikkim; and Lama Wangden (5868m) and Brumkhangse (5635m) in North Sikkim. Recommended Gangtok agents include Namgyal Treks and Tours.
The high-altitude treks most commonly offered by the operators are the Dzongri–Goecha La route, plus its variation starting from Uttarey and the Singalila Ridge. The exhilarating trek from Lachen to Green Lake is possible, but permission must be obtained from Delhi (most easily arranged through a Gangtok agent) at least two months in advance. At the moment, Dzongri still bears the brunt of the trekking industry in the state, and the pressure is beginning to tell severely on the environment.
Low-altitude hikes often come without the restriction of permits, and makes Sikkim an alluring destination for quiet walks off the beaten track. The rhododendron trails around Varshey, West Sikkim, for example, are particularly pleasant. A word of warning: avoid trekking unaccompanied in forest areas due to the risk of black bears.
Some areas, such as Nathu La on the border with Tibet in East Sikkim, and Gurudongma Lake in North Sikkim remain completely off-limits to foreigners.
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