Machil, also written as Matchil or Macchil, in district Kupwara is a familiar name for a place very close to the line of control (LOC).
To many it reminds of the national news regarding encounters with the soldiers of our neighbouring country and also an unfortunate fake encounter, repercussions of which continued till recently.
For others it represents a sector near the border in North Kashmir, controlled by Indian Army and not easily approachable by most.
It is actually a valley tucked behind the mountains of Shamasbari and beyond the densely forested clothed slopes of the beautiful Sogam Lolab. It is around 144 kms from Srinagar city passing through Kupwara town and going through Lolab valley alongside the Kalaroos (Quil-e-Roos) hills.
The hill has this name because it was believed that it has tunnels connecting Kashmir to Russia (Roos). There actually are seven tunnels with openings on the hill close to each other.
The myth of their going to Russia was busted by a team of American explorers.
They found that these tunnels had a blind end after variable distance of few hundred meters, going in different directions and some up going and others down going.
A fort like structure houses the opening of these tunnels called Satbaran (Seven doors).
It is also believed that this structure is an ancient temple built by the Pandavas. Climbing upwards one finds another unique solitary cave with a narrow mouth but leading to a large deep and spacious area. It is covered by cobbles and reddish hue with orange boulders. This is the well-known Tramkhan (copper mine).
The records of the Geological Survey of India and Directorate of Geology and Mining from 1957 to 1966 suggest that it was used to extract copper but the quality was poor and not cost effective, thus stopped.
The road beyond Kalaroos on way to Machil is narrow and has habitations and mustard fields during spring, and paddy fields during summer till cultivation time in September-October.
The road becomes difficult to travel in winters and often is closed for traffic because of heavy snowfall and avalanches.
The drive takes you past the conifer trees to Sarkuli. This village, famous for walnuts is surrounded by Nunwani and Jhakadnaka. This is the last village of the plains of the valley. It leads to a hilly road with valleys on one side and hills on the other till it reaches dense pine forests and emerges at a Ziarat Peer Baba close to an army camp.
Finally, the winding road with macadam coating changes to rough cement tiles to prevent skidding of vehicles during winter days reaches Zamindar Gali. It is popularly known as the Z gali and is at an altitude of 3150 metres (10,334 feet). All the vehicles have to stop here for recording of entry details with the army authorities.
The Commandant of the Army of the Brigadier rank stays here in a campus approachable from the Z Gali check point. On a clear day from the hill top one can get a panoramic view of the valley and peep into spots like Gulmarg, Liddar valley, Yus Marg etc.
The road then leads to a valley, the Machil. It is a gateway to 15 villages. Some of the important ones are: Har Duing, Chuint Wari, Dudi, Dab Bal, Misri Behak, Push Wari, and Sever Thendi Pora. All these names have meanings in Kashmiri language.
Har Duing, means a variety of colourful flowers in spring, Chuint Wari means village with apple orchards, Dab Bal is shaped like a Verandah (dub) over a rock (Pal), Dudi village with lot of cattle producing milk in abundance. Misri Behak, is after a gujjar who had come from Gurez and settled there. His name was Misri.
Machil itself is a Dardic name meaning fish, which are in abundance in the streams in this valley. It is a charming village with meadows during spring and summer, a perfect place for treks and picnics. It is surrounded by snow clad mountains of Nuwan.
It has a population of around 2000 with an almost equal distribution of males and females, with a population density of 9 per hectare. There are a few guest houses. Army has kept a few cottages for their guests along with a mess.
The place is known for potatoes, turnips and Rajma beans. Every house which is built mainly of wood has a kitchen garden with Haakh (Collard green), beans and maize. The maize, however, serves mainly for fodder for the cattle since the cold weather does not allow quality corn.
There being a strong presence of army, lot of facilities for the local population is provided by them. They also provide the locals with labour work on the making and repairing of roads.
A small hospital named after a martyred officer Major Sahi has been expanded recently. Gauri Kaul foundation has provided a telemedicine machine there under their “No Heart Attack Mission”.
It helps in diagnosing high blood pressure, does all the routine biochemistry and an electrocardiogram. A trained technician assimilates the data and communicates with a remote physician who guides the treatment.
As an accompaniment with the machine there is a juke box like almirah with commonly prescribed medicines stacked in sterile packets ready for dispensing. The facility has been funded by a CSR grant from Indian Oil Corporation (IOL).
The villagers are encouraged to visit this facility and its availability is being realized by the villagers living at variable distances. Recently a doctor has been posted to carry out OPDs for two days in a week.
Generic medicines are being made available. A well-equipped ambulance has also been provided by Gauri Kaul Foundation to carry sick patients to Kupwara district hospital for better management. A number of lives have been saved by timely transfer of patients to Kupwara and a few to Srinagar.
Being close to the LOC, it has a problem of shelling from both sides during encounters which scares the inhabitants. There have been occasions of injuries and even deaths during these skirmishes.
During the periods of shelling, residents sometimes take shelter in the caves in surrounding mountains, especially a mountain called Hoi Bal which has several caves.
Winter in Machil is a nightmare because of heavy snowfall and it getting cut off from rest of the world because the road from Kupwara gets snowbound despite lot of clearing work by the army personnel with their mechanized armour.
Around half of the population migrates to Sogam-Lolab areas of Kupwara for these un-liveable months. Those who cannot move out are confined to their homes.
They stock food items like potatoes and dried vegetables and beans and lentils. Army also supplements these efforts. There is also a plan to use drones to supply essential things including medicines for the villagers.
In general, the author who conducted an OPD and gave a public lecture found that obesity and heart attacks are very infrequent. However, high BP and strokes are seen often.
On the other hand, armed forces have lost several young soldiers of the age group 30 to 35, have died suddenly presumably of heart attacks while climbing heights.
The resuscitation kits need to have a portable defibrillator besides trained persons in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS). The team has to reach the victim within minutes.
Although helicopter lifting is available but it only helps if cardiac resuscitation has already been done. An understanding to this effect for imparting training by Gauri Kaul Foundation has been reached recently.
Machil, with its villages is an exceptionally beautiful area in extreme northern part of Kashmir. It is very picturesque, between spring and autumn and totally inaccessible and snow bound during the harsh winters.
Being very close to the LOC, this area is controlled by the army and not open to tourists unless a special permission is taken. The people of this isolated area are very sturdy, upright and hospitable.
The hostility between the two neighbours affects their day-to-day life to a great extent. Peace between the two neighbours can transform this place into a heaven.
Prof Upendra Kaul is founder Director, Gauri Kaul Foundation
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.