Friday, April 1, 2016

India Adventure III: How to get a PAP for Bir Tibetan Refugee Settlement

I've written a few times about my visits to a Tibetan Refugee Settlement in Bir, a small town in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. I return to Bir now and then to attend Buddhist retreats held at Deer Park Institute, a retreat center established by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

I am on my way to Bir tomorrow to attend an eleven day retreat on Buddhist Psychology and its Application in Dharma Practice led by Geshe Dorji Damdul ... with my Protected Area Permit (PAP) in hand. I will be staying at Deer Park Institute through April 15.

Foreign Students who spend the night at Deer Park Institute or in one of the Tibetan run hotels in Bir need to have a PAP issued by the Indian government.

PAPs were also required to attend His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings I attended in south India because the teachings were also held in Tibetan refugee settlements. That PAP application process was different - we needed to apply for those PAPs online through His Holiness' office in Delhi, and then the PAPs were sent to us via email.

In the case of PAPs for Bir, although I have heard you can now apply for a PAP online, I prefer to go to Dharamsala in person to apply for and pick up my PAP the same or following day.

Since my first trip to Dharamsala to get my PAP for Bir was so confusing, I thought I would document the trip in photos for the benefit of other students. I took all of these photos on Monday when I went to get my PAP for Bir along with nine of Geshe Dorji Damdul's other students.

Geshe Dorji Damdul's student meet up in the McLeod Ganj main square on Monday at 9AM.
D.C. Office here we come. Photo courtesy of Omar, pictured in the blue shirt and black pants.
Step one:

Make sure you have two passport photos and one photocopy of your passport and visa. In McLeod Ganj, you can take care of both of these things in the shops across the street from the McLeod Ganj post office. In Dharamsala, you can do the same in the shops just down the hill from the PAP office, on the right hand side of the street if you are facing down hill.

The PAP office in Dharamsala is open Monday through Friday (and the Deer Park website says also on some Saturdays) from 10AM - 5PM. It is closed from 1 - 2PM for lunch. Note it is not open on holidays. Make sure the day you are going is not a holiday before setting off for the office. It is best to be waiting outside of the office when it opens at 10AM if you want to try to get your PAP back the same day that you apply for it.

Step two:

The PAP office is part of the D.C. Office (District Commissioner's Office) in Dharamsala, a town below McLeod Ganj. The PAP office is not really within walking distance from McLeod Ganj. It is much more efficient to take a shared jeep followed by the government bus.

First, take a shared jeep from the McLeod Ganj bus stand to the Dharamsala bus station. To do this go to the McLeod bus station. The upward sloping driveway exiting the bus station should be lined with white jeeps. Each jeep driver will wait there until his jeep is full of passengers - like a mini bus - and then the driver will take everyone in his jeep to Dharamsala. It is maybe a 15 minute ride from the McLeod Ganj bus station to the Dharamsala bus station in the jeep.

From the Dharamsala bus station, you can take any bus headed to Palampur or Baijnath, and then exit the bus near the Dharamsala post office. You will be on the bus for less than 10 minutes. First, the bus will pass by Zonal Hospital on your right. Then the Dharamsala post office and police station will quickly pop up on your left.



If you prefer to take a taxi from McLeod Ganj to the PAP office then it should be about 250 rupees. Tell the driver you are going to the "D.C. Office in Dharamsala." If the driver does not know the D.C. Office then you can have the driver drop you off at the better known FRO (Foreigners Registration Office) which is clearly marked by a big sign out in front of the building. The FRO is in the building next door to the D.C. Office.

Step three:

If you took the bus and exited at the Dharamsala post office, then walk down the hill, heading away from McLeod Ganj and the Dharamsala bus station. After less than 5 minutes of walking you will get to a fork in the road.

Approaching the fork in the road. The bus I was riding on when I took this photo
had just passed the Dharamsala police station and post office on its left.

When you reach the fork in the road you will see a big white sign that says HP State Electricity Board Complex. There is a hard to see sign indicating that the road to the left goes to Vidhan Saba and Baijnath.

The road to the left also goes to Gyuto Monastery where His Holiness the Karmapa lives, Norbulinkga, Thosamling Nunnery, Blossom Resort, Palampur, and eventually Bir. The road to the right goes to the FRO and D.C. Offices.

Bear right at this fork. Keep walking down the hill. Walk on the left hand side of the street. The road looks like this:


In less than 5 minutes, you will see the FRO building on your left. The building is marked by this sign:

FRO office building in Dharamsala.
Pass by the FRO building. Although it sounds tempting, you cannot get your PAP in the FRO office. (I made this mistake the first time I went to get a PAP.)

On the right hand side of the street you will see a much smaller green and white metal street sign that says D.C. Office. This is what you are looking for:


You can see in the above photo that there is a Punjab National Bank just behind the D.C. Office sign. So you can also look for the Punjab National Bank when searching for the entrance to the D.C. Office. The whole building housing the Punjab National Bank looks like this:


The green and white D.C. Office sign and the Punjab National Bank are directly across the street from the entrance to the D.C. Office entrance and driveway. The man on the left hand side of the street in the blue shirt is walking in front of the D.C. Office entrance and driveway:


When standing in front of the D.C. Office sign and Punjab National Bank, looking across the street, you will see this big building. This is the D.C. Office:


When looking down from the second story of the building housing the Punjab National Bank, the street looks like this. The big building with the green roof is the D.C. Office:


Walk down the driveway into the D.C. Office building compound. When you walk down the driveway, you will see the D.C. Office building up close:


Enter the building using that big entrance on your left, under the overhang and very large glass window. When approaching the entrance, the hallway directly inside of the building will look like this:


Walk straight ahead, passing that row of fire extinguishers on your left. Behind that solid white wall you will find a flight of steps. Take the steps up to the floor marked as the Third Floor. The third floor looks like this - look for the red "D.C. Office" sign and arrow:


Then walk towards the big window where those two men are sitting in the above photo, and make a left as indicated by the D.C. Office red arrow. You will be facing a hallway that looks like this:


Walk down the hallway, reading the signs on your right hand side. You are looking for Room # 808. When you get there, it will look like this:


Walk into Room # 808. It looks like this:


There are a few desks and staff members working in Room # 808. Ask any staff member for a blank PAP application form.

Step four:

Take a seat and complete the PAP application form.


Some tips:
# 8: Do not put "journalist" or any other sort of media professional title. This will delay the processing of your PAP application.
# 11: You can leave this blank.
# 12 (a): You can put any person's name in your home country. No contact information needed.
# 12 (b): If you do not have a friend who lives in India, then you can write the name of your most recent guest house. No contact information needed.
# 15: Write "Bir".
# 16: Write "Dharamsala to Bir."
# 17: Write "Tourism."
# 18: Write the date on which you plan to arrive in Bir.
# 19: You can only get a PAP for a maximum of 30 days. So here you can write "30 days". If you need to stay longer in Bir then you will need to return to the D.C. Office in 29 days to apply for a new PAP.
# 21: Write the name of your hotel in Bir, or if you are staying at Deer Park Institute then write that.

At the bottom where the form says "place" just write "Dharamsala".

Give your completed PAP form, two passport photos, and one photo copy of your passport and visa to one of the staff members in Room # 808. Ask when you can return to pick up your PAP. If you completed your PAP application shortly after the office opened at 10AM, then hopefully you will be told to return after 2 or 3PM the same day to pick up your PAP. (The office closes at 5PM.)

There were a few times back in 2013 when I needed to take my PAP application papers around to different offices in the building to get the proper stamps and signatures before I could get my PAP. The last two times I went to get a PAP, I simply dropped off my application and then returned to collect my PAP later that day. Hopefully you will have a smooth trip.

Don't worry about it, but note this sign that I found hanging outside of Room # 808 when I went to get my PAP the other day:


Step five:

You can sit outside of the D.C. Office building in the sun, on a bench reading a book while you wait for your PAP to be ready for pick up, hopefully after 2 or 3PM. There is also an alcove steps away from Room # 808 where you can sit quietly and relax. In the past there has been a table here in the alcove, along with the bench:


Another important thing to note (aside from the fact that the PAP application and PAP itself are free of cost) is that the D.C. Office building has free, clean bathrooms on every floor. If the bathroom is locked on one floor then try another floor. You will need your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer - there is no soap in the bathrooms.

When I went to get my PAP on Monday, I had lunch across the street from the D.C. Office in the complex that houses Punjab National Bank. The restaurant is on the floor above Punjab National Bank. The restaurant was opened 4 - 6 months ago. It serves Indian food, including a variety of south Indian dosas. The service was great, the restaurant clean, and the food decent. It advertises that it has wifi but it was not working when my friends and I were there getting our PAPs on Monday.

Step six:

Return to Room # 808 at the hour given by the staff to collect your PAP. That's it. You're done. I always take a photo or make a photo copy of my PAP for my files. If you are staying at Deer Park Institute then you will need to give the Deer Park Office reception staff your PAP and you will not get it back. (You will also need to give them two passport photos upon check in at Deer Park Institute.)

Note that if you do not drop your PAP application off in Room # 808 shortly after 10AM then you may not be able to pick your PAP up the same day. (Even if you drop your PAP application off shortly after 10AM there is no guarantee you can pick your PAP up the same day. It is possible the official who needs to sign your PAP is out of the office in meetings or at another location for the remainder of the day.) The PAP application process is an excellent opportunity to practice patience and kindness to the D.C. Office staff.

If you must go to Bir without a PAP then you can inquire about staying at this Indian owned guest house in Bir without a PAP:



I stayed at Surya Hotel last month. It is 800 rs a night and is very clean and comfortable, with hot water at all times and wifi. It is on the main road in Bir, very close to everything including Deer Park Institute.
The front entrance to Surya Guest House.

My room at Surya Guest House.

The view from the balcony outside of my room at Surya Guest House.
You may think getting a PAP is a lot of work and question if it's worth all of the effort. It most certainly is worth the effort. Bir and Deer Park Institute are amazing places to visit.

One of the handful of monasteries in Bir, a short walk from Deer Park Institute
and Surya Guest House.
The main street in Bir. That yellow building on the right is one of several monasteries
you can visit.
Another monastery you can visit in Bir.

The outskirts of Bir at sunset. Imagine night like this.
If you have your PAP and are looking for a guest house then I can recommend Chokling Guest House, owned by nearby Chokling Monastery. It's about 500 rs per night for a nice room.

It's worth noting that if you are not spending the night in Bir (are just a day visitor, passing through Bir) then you do not need a PAP.

Also note there is now one ATM in Bir. If you need to use an ATM while in Bir and that one is not working then you will have to hire a taxi to drive you to the nearest ATM, located in a nearby town.

It is about 1,400 rs for a taxi ride between Bir and McLeod Ganj. The ride is 2.5 hours.

You can take government buses departing from the Dharamsala bus station to Bir, but will have to transfer at least once and the whole trip can take anywhere from 4 - 5 hours. One way from Dharamsala to Bir, transferring buses first at the Palampur bus station and then at the Baijnath bus station will cost approximately 120 rs in total.

Baijnath bus station and government buses.

Palampur bus station and one of the government buses.
As an alternative, I think you can take the government bus from the Dharamsala bus station (or maybe even up the hill at the McLeod Ganj main square - ask around) that goes to Manali, get off at "Bir Road turning" (where Bir Road turns), and take a taxi the remaining 10 minutes of the way to Deer Park Institute in the Tibetan settlement. (I don't recommend trying to walk that last 10 minute route. It is uphill and long, especially if you are carrying luggage.) Or you can get off of the Manali bound bus at the Baijnath bus station, and see if there is a bus leaving soon from the Baijnath bus station that goes to "Upper Bir" (as opposed to just Bir Road turning.)

Returning from Bir to Dharamsala, there is a direct bus that departs from outside of Friends Corner shop on the main street in Bir at approximately 7AM. The last local bus that departs Bir leaves from (a different location) at 5 or 5:30PM.

You can easily take an overnight (12 hour) volvo bus from Bir to Delhi. They leave Bir around 6PM. Buy your ticket at Friends Corner shop.

Enjoy your time in Bir.