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Access, permits and tour operators

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Although the region is gradually opening up for tourism, regulations can change according to the current state of security, so check the latest information with the Indian Embassy before travelling. Currently Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura are completely free of restrictions. Foreigners require Restricted or Protected Area Permits to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur; Indian nationals require Inner Line Permits for these four states. At the time of writing, the UK Foreign Office is advising against all travel to Tripura and Manipur. Arunachal Pradesh is the only state that charges for its permit (US$50), though Manipur demands a Rs1500 “royalty fee” when your permit is issued. Arunachal Pradesh permits are valid for 30 days; permits for the other states are valid for ten days, though it is sometimes possible to get an extension – ask on application or check with a tour operator in the region. Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh permits start from a fixed date; Mizoram permits start when you enter the state.

Officially Nagaland and Mizoram require you to travel in a group of at least four. However, Nagaland may allow married couples to enter on their own, while in practice Mizoram tends to be more flexible (you can often obtain a permit even if you are travelling alone). Arunachal Pradesh officially requires you to be in a group of two, though individual travellers, applying through a travel agent, can obtain a permit by paying the full two-person US$100 fee. Make lots of photocopies of your permits, as you will have to leave copies behind at the border, with hotels and so on.

When you cross into Arunachal Pradesh or Mizoram, you may have to tell the border guards that the other – non-present or fictitious – people on your permit have been “delayed” and that you are meeting a local guide once you reach your destination, regardless of your actual intentions. Nagaland is far stricter, however, and you’re unlikely to be allowed in on your own or without a guide; realistically you need to visit the state as part of an organized trip. If you are travelling with a tour operator in any of the states, expect to pay at least US$50 per person per day.

Independent travellers should have their permits endorsed at the Foreigners’ Registration Office (or with the Superintendent of Police) in the state capitals. Permits are not date-stamped when you cross a border, so if your travels take you in and out of a state more than once, there may be some confusion as to whether you are allowed back in again. Passes are valid for the full period they are allocated for, no matter how many times you enter and exit a state, but in practice you may find yourself facing border guards demanding bribes. Stand your ground.

Obtaining permits

The easiest way of getting a permit for Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh is by applying several weeks in advance through a tour operator. You’ll have to pay an administration fee – and sometimes a few rupees to “ease” the permit’s progress through the state bureaucracy – but they may be able to help put a group together. The alternative is to apply to the Foreigners’ Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Lok Nayak Bhavan, Khan Market, New Delhi, or the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, AJC Bose Road, Kolkata; however, the permits issued from these offices are often limited to certain areas within the states, which may not fit in with your travel plans. It is best to give yourself around a week to get the permits sorted. It’s also possible to obtain permits from Indian embassies abroad – however, they all have to get permission from Delhi, so apply at least two months in advance.

To obtain Inner Line Permits, Indian citizens should apply with two passport photographs to representatives of the state governments concerned. Applications should only take a day to process, and can be extended for up to six months in the relevant state capital.

State Government representatives

Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Bhawan, Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri, Delhi t011/2301 3915; Block CE-109, Sector 1, Salt Lake, Kolkata t 033/2334 1243.

Manipur

Manipur Bhawan, 2 Sardar Patel Marg, Chanakyapuri, Delhi t 011/2687 3311; Manipur Bhawan, 26 Rowland Rd, Kolkata t033/2475 8075.

Mizoram

Mizoram Bhawan, Circular Rd (behind the Sri Lankan Embassy), Chanakyapuri, Delhi t011/2301 0595; Mizoram House, 24 Old Ballygunge Rd, Kolkata t 033/2475 7034.

Nagaland

29 Aurangzeb Rd, Delhi t011/2301 6411; Nagaland House, 12 Shakespeare Sarani, Kolkata t033/2242 5269.

Tour operators

Cultural Pursuits

Hotel Alpine Continental, Shillong, Meghalaya t 9436/303978, whttp://www.culturalpursuits.com. Friendly, experienced and extremely well-informed Canadian operation arranging trips throughout the region, including tailor-made excursions for budget travellers.

Gurudongma Tours & Treks

Gurudongma Lodge, Kalimpong, West Bengal t03552/255204, whttp://www.gurudongma.com. Highly professional team arranging tours, trekking, mountain-biking, tribal and wildlife holidays in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, with particular expertise in birdwatching trips (w http://www.allindiabirding.com).

Jungle Travels India

GNB Road, Silpukhuri, Guwahati, Assam t 0361/266 0890, whttp://www.jungletravelsindia.com. Guwahati-based agent organizing quality group and tailor-made tours, including luxury cruises.

Purvi Discovery

Jalannagar, Dibrugarh, Assam t0373/230 1120, w http://www.purviweb.com. A tour operator with excellent guides, arranging personalized wildlife, fishing, golfing, horseriding, war memorial, tribal and tea tours around Dibrugarh and throughout the Northeast.

Travel The Unknown

52/1 Friends Rd, Croydon, London, UK t 0845/053 0352, whttp://www.traveltheunknown.com. A responsible and well-run UK-based company specializing in off-the-beaten-track destinations, with tours throughout the region, including to Tawang, Kaziranga and Cherrapunjee.

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