Foreign tourists, except of Pakistani, Chinese, and Afghan origin, will soon be allowed to travel to Ladakh's protected and restricted areas without the Centre's approval. The home ministry has also relaxed norms for travel of foreign tourists to Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Foreign tourists were earlier allowed to visit only some areas of Ladakh, like Tso Moriri and Dah-Hanu villages, in groups of two or more through registered travel agents. Now, at the behest of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has relaxed the norms despite reservations from security forces, the Economic Times reported. The tourists will now have access to areas like Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley.
With the relaxed norms, solo foreign travellers will be permitted to visit the restricted areas with Protected Area Permit (PAP) and Restricted Area Permit (RAP), which will be available within 10 days of application, subject to background checks, as against the earlier 30-day limit. They will also now be able to apply only 30 days prior to travel, as opposed to the earlier 60-day limit.
"Foreign tourists will not be allowed to visit any border areas or a place where key infrastructure is located," a senior home ministry official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
From now on, the concerned state government will be issuing the permission for travel.
"The applications for special permits were referred to the home ministry in places where the powers were not delegated to state authorities. We have decided to delegate powers to subordinate authority to issue a RAP and PAP in other areas as well," the official told ET.
The Centre, however, will still have the final word in allowing Afghan, Pakistani, or Chinese nationals to visit the restricted and protected areas.