After proper verification from the concerned police station, Additional District Magistrate Kupwara issued an ‘e-visa’ valid for a week to visit Machil.
“What is the purpose of the visit?” The online application asked. “To know the health status of remote border belts in the aftermath of the pandemic.” I responded with the theme of my assignment.
As the shared cab I boarded at the main market Kupwara zoomed past picturesque Kalaroos, the ascending curves of Shamsbari mountain range culminated at Zamindar Gali.
For security reasons,the Indian army registers all the tourists at Z-Gali.
It is the same spot where tribals from Pakistan camped for six months during the partition of India in 1947.At the gated garrison near Machil village, the army notes down all the details for their perusal.
No sooner did we reach Machil, our host, an unparalleled example of Kashmiri hospitality had arranged everything for lunch.
“Kheyiv hez hodie batti” is all he uttered.
This is the distinct feature of Kashmiris. It is a feeling and can’t be translated.
Only hospitable Kashmiris know what it means. Let us move around.
Cameras fail to capture what naked eyes experience. Conifer-clothed dense forests and jaw-dropping meadows welcome visitors to Machil.
Chandankhal is a carbon copy of the Baisaran valley of Pahalgam. From Misribehak to Katwara to Chontiwari to RingiBala, Machil has great potential for border tourism.
Machil has magnetic magic.There are nine panchayats and seven revenue villages. Every village is a tourist resort. In 2022, tourists thronged Machil in droves for the first time.
Natural beauty apart, the residents face a plethora of problems.
To begin with, to douse the flames, there is no fire service station. If the students want to pursue higher studies, they have to live in rented accommodations in Kupwara and elsewhere in the valley since there is no degree college.
In digital India, only one Machil village has internet access.
Government’s tall claims of digitally connecting India fall flat beyond Machil village.
Phones do not ring or beep in the remaining villages. They remain deprived of mobile telecommunications.
In most of the other villages, the residents have no idea of what is happening in the country or across the globe. They are living in a confined cocoon.
There is just one branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank in a dilapidated building.
But there is not a single ATM in this sector.
Over 10 feet of snowfall at Z-Gali keeps it isolated for almost half a year.
To keep themselves warm, wooden houses without a thatched roof are the primary dens to survive in harsh winters. Now, in the last few years, the residents have started migrating to Kupwara during chilly winters.
There are no accommodation facilities for government employees posted in this remote border area.
J&K Government’s Roads and Building (R&B) department constructed a building for this purpose but it has been abandoned.
If the households living in its locality are to be believed, the structure has become a nuisance for them;The primary point of contact for anti-social elements.
For nearly 25K civilians, one Sub District Hospital (SDH) or trauma center is the long pending demand not fulfilled by the authorities so far.
What I witnessed at Primary Health Center Dudi is unbelievable. A laboratory assistant takes care of the first aid, ward maintenance, issuance of drugs, and labour room.
Big dustbins in the wards emanate a foul smell. The health center is too unhygienic for patients to be admitted.
Not even a single sweeper is available to clean the building. The washrooms are dirty and full of filth.
And the employees on duty said that when the former deputy commissioner visited them last, they paid from their pocket to clean the rooms. No X-ray machine for Machil dwellers.
There is no technician to operate the machine provided by the Army.
Every healthcare official from docs to paramedics to health workers is annoyed and overburdened.
Does Chief Medical Officer Kupwara (CMO) care about the health and well-being of his Ri’ayah? If yes? The J&K Lieutenant Governor (LG) is expected to visit Machil on September 08, hoping he will radically reform the healthcare services delivery model.
There is not even a single gynecologist posted in Machil. To improve the menstrual health of the nomadic community, some non-governmental organizations from different parts of the country come and educate womenfolk and teenage girls about period pangs.
Many of them are using sanitary pads for the first time, is what we learned.
The panchayat representative of Machil said that the army has constructed a hospital and critical patients in need of better medical facilities are airlifted by choppers.
The road beyond Dudi is well-worn and not fit for travel.The admin has failed to bridge the digital divide.
The schools here are headless. There is no Tourist Reception Center.
The erstwhile state’s Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) had dedicated one bus on this route, a great relief for these border residents. But the bus vanished from the scene for unknown reasons. The local sarpanch said that the Revenue department has made a joke of a Tehsil office because Nayabat and Girdawari circle is in Kalaroos. A person has to shuttle between Kalaroos and Machil to attest to a single paper. He expressed his remorse, “everything is done on papers here, I am highly disappointed.”
Draped in dense forests, Machil is blessed with scenic beauty.
But believe it or not, electricity reached here for the first time in 2020,seventy-three years after Independence.
Machil, earlier a no-go zone, is wooing tourists as guns fall silent.
This sparsely populated areais a perfect adventure tourism destination.
Once an infiltration corridor, Machil mesmerizes its guests now. Machil woes are endless like its ethereal pastures.
The author is one of the 3 awardees of the inaugural Narendar Revelli Media Fellowship and this story is funded by Turaga Foundation and University of Hyderabad.
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.