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Khewra Salt Mines of Pakistan

Posted on June 14, 2007
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Clicking on the photos in this post will take you to their host websites and larger image sizes

A friend recently sent me few photos of Khewra area and that got me interested in finding more about the famous Khewra Salt Mines and Tourist Resort. Following is a combination plate of what I already knew and what I learnt new about Khewra.

History:

Geologists put the age of rock-salt found in Khewra at about 600 million years. In geological timescale this time period is called Precambrian. It is said that discovery of rock salt in Khewra area dates back to as early as circa 326 BC. According to a legend, the army of Alexander the great was resting in Khewra area after a battle with Raja Porus. Some horses of Alexander‘s army were then seen licking rock salt in the area. Somebody from Alexander‘s army noted down the incident in his ledger or diary and hence?we came to know that salt was discovered?here circa 326 BC.?History is however silent?on which language this incident was recorded in (Greek?) or where is that diary now. But since those days people in the area continued to collect salt from the out crops of salt seams that were exposed at the hill surface.



It is said that the chiefs of ‘Janjua-Raja’ tribe were the first to initiate the standard mining practices here in the 13th Century. However, a chronology of the Mughal Rule in the Sub-Continent says that when the Mughals emerged supreme in the Punjab, they took over the mine from the local tribal chiefs and, thereafter, started to work on it until Punjab came under the Sikhs. Under Sikh rule the mine came up to be known as ‘Khewra Salt Mine’. The British ousted the Sikhs and annexed Punjab in 1849 and renamed the mine as the ‘May Mine’ in 1870.

In 1872, Dr. H. Warth, a renowned British Mining Engineer, laid out the main tunnel at ground level. He proposed that only 50% of salt be excavated from the working seam while the remaining 50% be left as pillars. 155 years later this same methodlogy called the ‘room and pillar’ method is still being used in Khewra mining operation.

..Photo to the left shows rail tracks in the main tunnel of the mine. Can you also see some ghosts walking in the tunnel….

To make salt from Khewra mines accessible to rest of India, British laid a railway line which was opened as a meter-gauge on January 1, 1883. It was later converted to a siding and a broad gauge line was laid which is operational to date.

Salient Features:

Khewra salt mines are the second largest salt mines in the world, outdone only by Wielicza salt mine in Krakow, Poland.

At present the Khewra Salt Mine is in the control of a federally controlled corporation i.e. Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC).

.. Photo to the right is the main entrance. The date written on top-middle of this arched gate is 1916-17. The Urdu sign reads ‘Salt Mine Khewra’ which is literal translation of English text to the left. Until few years ago the sign in Urdu had Persian influence and it used to say ‘kaan-e-namak Khewra’. Sign of changing times!!…

Ok. Get ready to digest some numbers in this paragraph. There are 19 levels (similar to stories in a building) in the mine. Seven levels are above ground and twelve are underground. There is a clearence of 50ft of salt/rock between each level. Annual extraction of salt here is around 315000 tonnes (in 2003-04). The mine is 350m above sea level and goes 730m deep into the mountain. The cumulative length of tunneling which is done inside the mine is more than 40 km. Inside the mine there are seven rock salt seams with an accumulated thickness of 150 metres.

In spots the rock salt is 99% pure. Some people say salt or no salt, it is hard to find anything so pure outside the mine these days. The average purity however is around 96%. According to PMDC website the salt deposits here are 6.687 billion tonnes. It was difficult for me to imagine how much salt is that but at another website I read this is enough deposit for 400 years (unconfirmed). It must also depend on how much salt is extracted every year.

What to See:

Since 2002, the main tunnel of the mine has been converted into a tourist attraction. Some of the websites we consulted claim 35000-40000 visitors come here every year. In 2003 a major restoration work was carried out at the mines to make it a prime tourist destination. Decorative light-work was done to make portions of mine a walk through the glittering stars. The salt crystal found here is translucent?which means it absorbs some light and reflects some.

..Photo to the right shows a wall made of salt bricks. Notice the different shades of rock salt under light..

Depending upon the thickness (among other properties), the salt rock glows when lit in many different shades.

The tourist attractions inside the mine include:

(1) Assembly Hall: It is the name given to?a large chamber in the mine. It measures about 75m in height and fascinates tourists because stairs go circling around the hall to the top.

(2) pul-saraat: This is a Salt Bridge called the Pul-saraat. It?has no pillars whatsoever to support it. It is just a narrow strip of pure rock salt 20 to 25 feet in length and 5 feet thick with 80 feet deep ponds of brine (Saltish Water) on both sides. Those who know the meanings of real pul-saraat must be enjoying the creativity of people who thought about naming this salt bridge as such.

(3) Indoor Brine Ponds:

Inside the mine there are certain chambers filled with saturated brine solution. The salty water seeps through mine walls and roof and collects into these chambers overtime. There are several such water-filled chambers in the mine but they are very difficult to see in the dark. Only two such ponds have been illuminated for tourism purposes. One such pond is shown in the photo to the left.

(4) Badshahi Mosque: There is a mosque built inside the main tunnel of the mine. It is called the ‘badshahi masjid’. To beautify the mosque different colours of salt bricks have been used. Red, Pink and White are the major shades of salt bricks. Between the Bricks space has been provided for the electric bulbs to lit the mosque.

..Photo to the right shows Badshahi mosque inside the main tunnel of Khewra Salt Mine..

(5) Sheesh Mahal:?The word Sheesh Mahal means ‘Palace of Mirrors’. There is an area called Sheesh Mahal in the mine named such for?colorfully reflecting salt bricks. The salt here is of light pink color and glows in many different shades under light.

(6) The Great Wall of China, The Mall, Shimla Hill and Meenar-i-Pakistan:

The salt walls of the main tunnel has carvings of some famous structures which glow under light in beautiful shades. These wall carvings include models of the Great Wall of China, the Mall road of Murree, Lahore’s Shimla hill, Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore etc. All these structures are made of Salt that emit pink, white and red lights when lit up.

.. Photo to the?left above?is a carving of meenar-e-Pakistan made by salt bricks. The dimensional?scaling of this model as compared to the real meenar-e-Pakistan is extremely violated here but we should not keep it against the artists?of Khewra mines…

(7) Narrow Gauge Electric Railway:

A narrow gauge electric train transports visitors from the visitors gate to a track juncture some 500m inside the tunnel. Outside the tunnel one can also see abandoned rails and small train wagons that were used here for salt extraction since 1930s.

..Photo of this train is given to the right.

The fare structure for this train is expensive and kind of complicated. Fare for a ride is Rs. 250. Twelve people of a group can ride in this fare. For any person more than a group of 12, the fare is Rs 20 each…e.g. 13 people in a?group will pay Rs 270 and so on..

(8) Pakistan Post Office, Khewra Salt Mine. Postal Code 48530

There is a fully functional Post Office made of salt bricks inside the Mine. One can send postal mail all over the World from here.

..A photo of this post office inside the mine built from Salt bricks is shown to the right..

There is a full time postal employee stationed here.

(9) Salt Crystal Formations

Such formations are abundant in the mine and are a big tourist attraction. Some of them seem to grow upwards from the ground while others hang from the roof. One such formation takes many decades to form therefore it is of utmost importance that tourists don’t touch or break them

..photo to the left shows crystal formation on the mine roof.

(10) Old Mining Machinery

Though not very well kept, one can spot old mining machinery as well as bits and pieces of old railway lying around here and there.

.. photo to the?right is of abandoned old rolling-stock which was in works circa 1930s..

There is also a briefing room for visitors as well as a sovenier shop located here. The mine is open 9 am to 6 pm all year round.

Chronology of Khewra Salt Mines:

326BC: Khewra salt deposits are discovered by the troops of Alexander’s army whose horses were seen licking rock-salt in the area.

13th Century AD: Janjua-Raja tribe extracts salt from the area.

1500: Mughals control the salt removal from the area

1809: Sikhs take over the control of mines from the Mughals

1849: British take over the control of mines from the Sikhs.

..photo to the right is a historical marker written in Pinglish inside the Khewra Salt Mine…

1850: British reports reveal that about 534512 tonnes of fine rock Salt had been extracted up to then.

1853: Drinkable water spring is discovered in the mine. Waterworks are built in the form of wooden pipe to transpost this water to Khewra village of that time.

1856: The metalled road between Khewra and Pind Dadan Khan is destroyed because of floods.

1870: British renamed the mines as ‘May Mines’.

1872: Dr H. Warth, the chief mining engineer at Khewra?designs the main tunnel at ground level and establishes 50-50 room and pillar rule of salt extraction.

1878: Dr H. Warth leaves the Khewra Mine Project.

January 1, 1883: Meter-gauge railway was opened from Chalisa to Khewra.

1886-87: Queen Victoria Railway Bridge over River Jhelum is completed. This connects Khewra to Malakwal Jn and hence to?all of India by rail.

1889-90:Salt production crosses 50000 metric tonnes for?the first time.

1902: A hospital is established to provide medical facilities to miners and their families.

March 1923: the production obtained from Khewra Salt Mines was 4971420 tonnes

1938: ICI Soda Ash Khewra Plant established.

1947: Government of Pakistan takes over the mine operation.

1974: Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) established.

2002: Khewra Salt Mines Resort Development Project launched by the PMDC Management.

How to get there:

Motorway M2:The fastest way to reach Khewra mines is via motorway M2. The mines are located 30km east of Lilla interchange towards Pind Dadan Khan. Road signs are quite visible.

Highway N5: A slower but scenic approach is also available from GT road?from Mandra.?Distances?from Mandra (0km)are:?Chakwal (63km), Choa Saidan Shah (93km) and Khewra (103km).

Pakistan Railway:

I will not recommend train link to Khewra unless you are a die-hard train fan. There are two trains daily between Malakwal Jn and Khewra which cover 27km distance in exact 1 hour. You have to change trains at Malakwal Jn which is connected to Lala Musa Jn on mainline at one end and Sargodha Jn at other. There are 6 daily trains on this Lala Musa – Malakwal – Sargodha route.

..photo to the left above is Khewra Railway station building..

References and Credits:

(1) Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC)

(2) Khewra Videos

(3) Khewra Photos at Trekearth

(4) Khewra Photos at Flickr

(5) Know my Country Pakistan by Dr. M.H. Chaudhry

(6) Khewra: Things to do at virtualtourist.com

77 comments posted

Comment Pages: « 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 [2] 1 » Show All

  1. maida rasool/safwan rasool says:
    July 16th, 2007 4:05 am

    we visited the mines yesterday; What a beautiful place; I’ve never seen in my life

  2. François Brisse says:
    June 18th, 2007 9:32 am

    I came across this very good descrition of the Khewra Salt Mine. Long ago I had the chance to visit the very impressive Wieliscka Salt mine in Poland and so I was very surprised to discover that the Khewra mine is the next largest. I did not even know of its existence.
    As I am a stamp collector, I would very much like to receive a letter with a clear postmark mailed from the Post Office inside the mine. Could anyone help me ?

  3. Deeda-i-Beena says:
    June 17th, 2007 10:27 pm

    Thanks a lot Owais Mughal for a wonderful and informative post. I believe Khewra Salt Mines have also been referred to as a Natural Wonder of the World.
    Your post brings back pleasant memories. Our first visit was in the 1950s with our school group.The recent one was about 5 years ago. We did not see and appreciate, several of the sites you described and photographed so well.
    May I add a few additional bits of information some of which was given to us by a top guide assigned to us.
    1) The British settled a group of(Male?)Burmese exiles, brought there as punishment (In the same manner as the Last Moghul Emperor, Bahadar Shah Zaffar was exiled to Burma). For their subsistence, they were given the monopoly for themselves/hired local labour to extract the Rock Salt.That right in perpetuity has continued even today to their successor generations that inter-married with local women.
    2) ICI is the sole user of the Salt produced at the mines to be used at their Soda Ash Plant. Alongwith use by some other industries, Soda Ash is the mainstay raw material in producing Paint. ICI has a very lavish colony for its staff posted there and an equally posh and hospitable guest house facilities, which they open up to people they like.
    3)The Rock salt used in Pakistan for human consumption is derived through slippage/smuggling by unofficial mining. All the “official” extraction goes to the ICI plant. Even then the spillover quantity is enormous, that it can be found in markets all over Pakistan. The bulk of salt consumed in Pakistan is from other sources, mainly from Sea water.
    4) United Nations agencies UNICEF and WHO in 1960s and 1970s made feasibility studies to centralise the Iodized Salt production for human consumption for entire Pakistan, at Khewra Mines. Worldwide, Salt has been identified as the vehicle of choice for Iodization – to prevent incidence of the disease “Goitre” that is very prevalent in all segments of Pakistani society. Beaureaucratic incompetence, vested industrial interests and religeous leader objections, did not allow that to happen. As a result some of best looking Pakistani Men and Women suffer from the medical consequences and the ugly looking “Goitre” Chin-Neck.
    5) The Kallar Kahar – Salt Range is a most pictureque and tourism-rich area. The Salt Lake just off the Motorway has a unique flora and fauna-the Peacocks, Birds and the water-fouls. Its Easy Off-Easy On access from the Motorway should make it a great experience for Car travellers To and From Islamabad. Like all ordinary Pakistanis, the local folks are very hospitable.
    Thanks again for introducing another of the myriad wonders of Pakistan we donot appreciate.

  4. tina says:
    June 16th, 2007 10:39 am

    This is something new for me. Great post, thanks for showing us this new site. I love the salt structures.

  5. AUK says:
    June 16th, 2007 10:08 am

    I took a trip to the mines in December of 2005. Owais did a very comprehensive job of describing the mines and their history. One thing that folks may not be aware of is that ICI has their Soda Ash plant in Khewra. They use salty water from the mines (piped though lines) as the main raw material in their manufacturing process. Soda ash is used in numerous consumer products, mainly soaps and detergents, and ICI is perhaps the sole producer in the country, thanks to the abundant salt water from the mines. Another interesting fact to note is that as they keep mining for more salt, there are these water ponds that keep coming up (Owais has a picture of one of these). Some of these ponds are huge in size (comparable to Olympic size pools) and are fairly deep. This is all salty water used by ICI.
    M2 motorway is the best way to get there )from Islamabad/Pindi. The drive is pretty picturesque. One thing you notice as you get off the M2 to turn towards the mines is the lack of any vegetation other than small shrubs. I think it is mainly because of the high salt content in the ground in areas around the mines. I also did not see any signs of subsistence agriculture, which is pretty normal for the Potohar region.
    The tours to the mines are guided. The guides are very well informed and well conversant both in English and Urdu. We had some foreigners on our train, and one of the guides kept an English monologue going throughout the tour; pretty amazing for a backward region like this.

  6. khalid says:
    June 15th, 2007 2:15 am

    Very informative post. There is a history in this post and so many children and also adult from Pakistan don’t know about this salt mine.

  7. Aqil Sajjad says:
    June 15th, 2007 12:06 am

    As always, an excellent post by Owais.

    One thing though, can anyone post more about the people in the area? Things like the local economy, how the people live, the availability of basic facilities and economic opportunities, the working conditions of the miners etc? I feel that sometimes in our focus on the physical sights, we forget the people.

  8. Salty says:
    June 15th, 2007 12:02 am

    Hi…I just got a notification that my Salt Lamp sales site name was in a comment on your story.

    I am working on a new website for information on Natural Salt as a dietary supplement and Salt Lamps (My Salt Lamp Company won’t be selling Salt Salt Lamps on the site as it will be a directory with links to people in various parts of the Salt business).

    I have collected a series of Articles but yours really is the best and most concise. Can I have your permission to use it on the new site with giving you an author credit or establish a link to it?

    Great and thorough work!

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