One of the little headaches that afflict you when you plan to travel to the north-eastern states of India is the question of inner line permits. Do you need it? Where do you get it? Why do they have it anyway?
The answer as of today is that you need it if you want to travel to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. The Victor found a web site for the ILP to Arunachal Pradesh. We tried to get one through the web site. It seemed easy; we uploaded the documents needed, and got an instant response by SMS. Two weeks later we received a mail saying that the application was rejected. It turns out that the web-based form works only if you are planning to travel to Itanagar, the capital of the state. For any other destination, you need to apply in Kolkata or Delhi.
So we couriered our application to Kolkata about three weeks ago. There has been no response to it yet. In the meanwhile we found from the car hire agency that you can apply for an ILP when you reach the inter-state border crossing at Bhalukpong. You get it within half an hour if you are a tourist. We plan to try that. Lucky we don’t want to go to Tawang to work!
To get to Bum La you need another permit, this one issued by the Indian Army. Over the last decade there has been commerce between India and China through this 5 km high pass! Tripadvisor forum discussions tell us that it is not too difficult to get the permit once you get to Tawang.
With the recent decades of mounting tension along some borders, and terrorism across others, one understands why the Indian army may want to control traffic close to borders. But what is the logic of the ILP? A newspaper article claims that this was instituted by the British when they moved into these areas to exploit natural resources. Selectively issuing passes kept Indian businessmen out of the competition. Now the ILP is used by local tribal politicians for exactly the same purpose. However, the lack of competition and an open market has slowed the development of these states tremendously. These claims and implications by the newspaper have a certain logic. I wonder what the local people feel. I’m sure we will find out.
Note added 12 days later
Some things are simpler than they appear. The Inner Line Permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh was available at the Guwahati Airport. As we were about to exit, we saw a kiosk of Arunachal Tourism, with a notice saying that the ILP could be obtained there. Each of us had carried two passport sized photos and two copies of our PAN cards. We parted with these and were given our permits in a short time. Later we found that we could also have got it at Bhalukpong.
The pass to Bum La was even easier. We asked the hotel in Tawang, and they arranged it for a small fee. We did not need more photos or copies of the PAN cards. The hotel took our ILP and arranged everything. Apparently, this Restricted Area Permit (RAP) is issued by a magistrate. Then it has to be taken to an army office which gives you a date and time when you are allowed to go.