Khewra Salt Mine
Located about 200 kilometers from Islamabad, in the famous, time-old salt range region, lies a strikingly scenic place which is both a geographical rarity and an economic treasure trove. I'm referring to the salt mine at Khewra, reportedly the largest rock salt deposit on the Asian continent and the world's second biggest salt mine. The discovery of salt here extends back in time to 326 B.C. when the horses of the army of the Macedonian General Alexander the Great were observed licking the ground. The local tribes mined the salt for centuries thereafter but it was under British colonial rule that modern mining techniques were introduced by the mining engineer Dr. H. Warth, who made the first tunnel at the ground level in 1872. A railway line was also laid to the nearby town of Jhelum to transport salt rocks. Today, salt is mined on 17 or 19 levels but only the ground level is open to tourists. At the present rate of mining, there is sufficient salt to last for another 350 years. Most of the current salt production of approximately 325,000 tonnes is used in industrial production (with the Imperial Chemical Industries Soda Ash Khewra absorbing about 200,000 tonnes of the total output), some is exported for personal consumption in the Pakistani and overseas (especially Indian) markets, or used to make lamps and decorative objects.
I visited Khewra four times: Once back in 1994, then on April 9th 2006, subsequently with my parents on May 6th 2007, and, last on June 3rd 2007 with two friends and our hired driver. I snapped hundreds of photos with my digital cameras during my second, third and fourth visits. My first two visits were organized by the Asian Study Group, the third and fourth were privately arranged.
The mine, which is owned and operated by the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, can be reached easily by road. In 1994, our group travelled there from Islamabad by coach via the Grand Trunk road. On my recent fourth visit my friends and I took the same route. In my second and third visits to the mine earlier in 2007, we used the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway, turning off at the exit at Lilla (160 kilometers from Islamabad) in the direction of Pind Dadan Khan and following the road to Khewra for another 30 kilometers distant (after about 20 kilometers from the Lilla exit turn left at the T-intersection towards Khewra). The Pind Dadan Khan road is, unlike the excellent motorway, in a lousy shape and heavily pot-holed at places. But the view of the surrounding flatland with hills in the horizon is spectacular :0) The last stretch of road which passes through Khewra town is in an awful condition and if you own a rickety vehicle in its terminal stage of life, maybe you should reconsider using it to travel to the mine! Doing so, though, is really an experience of a lifetime.
To reach its core, visitors can walk a kilometer or so through the shaft or they can take a five-minute ride in a rickety electric train (probably also from ancient times!) whose noise level is so thunderous that you'd best carry ear plugs to prevent your eardrums from bursting, and which is also so bumpy that you feel like you're on the rodeo! Once inside the mine, you'll find that everything it has to offer is impressive. The ceilung of the famous assembly hall stands about 75 metres above the floor. Miners have constructed a small mosque and post office from pink and white salt rocks formed into bricks. Reproductions of major architectural landmarks in Pakistan, such as the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore, have also been constructed from salt bricks over this past year. Lights placed inside these structures cause them to glow beautifully. The guide may show you the magnificent "diamond alley" whose walls and ceiling are encrusted with white and pink salt crystals which scintillate like jewels when illuminated with light. There is also a lovely place called the "Sheesh Mahal" whose pinkish walls and ceilings convey an almost surreal impression. I was told that some movies were filmed here. And the mine contains several lakes so saturated with brine that any object which falls in them will float on the water surface. These lakes, some spanned by bridges, are amazing to look at. The pinkish cavern ceilings just a few meters above are reflected by the water in a manner which is so deceiving, that the visitor gets the impression that the uneven surfaces of these ceilings are really the surfaces of the bottom of the lakes! Therefore, the lakes appear to be quite shallow, whereas in reality they may be quite deep. The temperature in the mine stays constant around 18 degrees centigrade throughout the year.
On my first visit to the mine, there weren't many vistors around. Things have changed a lot ever since. In 2002, the management of the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation launched the "Khewra Salt Mines Resort Development Project" to promote tourism. Nowadays, every year the mine attracts about around 40,000 tourists - both Pakistanis and foreigners. Whole busloads of people, mostly a younger crowd, descended on the mine on April 9th, 2006. I suppose they do so on most days. A few shops have sprung up inside the mine as well as many outside it. I recommend a visit to the souvenir shop near the ticket counter where animals, lamps and other objects made of rock salt can be purchased. There are a number of such shops and street vendors in proximity of the mine.
If you're spending time in this region of Pakistan, the salt mine at Khewra is one place which MUST be on your tour itinerary. Visiting the mine is truly an experience of a lifetime and everything about is inspiring. The mine is open throughout the week (including Sundays and holidays) from 9 AM to 6 PM. The entrance ticket in April 2006 cost Pak. Rupees 30 (adults) and Rupees 15 (students); for our foreign group members, it was USD 6 (adults) and USD 3 (students). There was also a nominal charge of Rupees 10 for car parking and a seperate fee for using the electric train. Unfortunately, on my third visit to the mine on May 6th, 2007, I discovered that the cost had risen quite substantially. For three persons (my parents and myself), I paid for each of us Rupees 60 (entrance ticket), Rupees 25 (for car parking) and Rupees 400 (for use of the electric train). However, the price includes the services of a guide who meets the guests when the train arrives inside the mine and stops by the salt mosque. I also noticed on this recent visit that there fewer people about, possibly because of the cost, but maybe also because of the searing summer heat outside which was around 40 degrees centigrade.
(Click on any photo thumbnail to see its larger version)
These four photos are of the salt range region in which the Khewra Salt Mines are located. The hills contrast greatly with the flat plains of the Punjab. On the right is Khewra town.
These three photos were taken inside the Khewra Salt Mines. I didn't take many photos at the time because my camera was inappropriate for the darkness inside. The photo on the extreme left shows the mosque constructed enturely of salt bricks and illuminated. In the photo in the middle, the guide is explaining to our group members and the photo on the right shows a very large salt rock.
Two photos of me standing in front of the entrance to the Khewra Salt Mines. The photo on the left was taken on my first visit there in 1994. The photo on the right was taken on my second visit on 9th April 2006. Have I and the mine entrance changed much in those twelve years?
The photos below, all taken on April 9th, 2006, show the mine's surrounding landscape and buildings before our tour group entered the mine
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|The photo on the left shows several of our group members standing around waiting for the guide to purchase our entrance tickets and arrange for a guide. The photo on the right shows the hill in which the mine is located. The entrance is on the left beyond the bridge.|
|These are shots of the mine surroundings. Note the children's playground on the right. There is also a mosque (or shrine?) in close proximity of the mine.|
|This is a building which looks as if it may have been erected in the colonial days. I don't know what its purpose is and there was no one there to ask.|
|Views of the large parking area. I don't think you'll find it too difficult to park here, even during peak season. There were a number of other coasters too. See the other tourists in the two photos on the right.|
|The parking area is again on the left and some other building. On the right is a large built up area next to the parking lot where you can purchase entrance tickets, buy souvenirs etc.|
|This is the area already shown in the photos above on the right side, showing the area where the offices of the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (the mine owners) are located. The souvenir shop is also close by (see photos below). There are also benches where one can sit and relax. The day was very windy (note the flags) and at times it was difficult to stand motionless for the photos.|
|The souvenir shop at the Khewra salt mine. It's small but it has a few nice items. I bought some table salt. See also the lamps and animal figures made from salt rocks on the photos.|
|OK, now we're going towards the mine. To do that we had to walk down a long and windy path towards the hill where the mine entrance is located. On reaching there, a train (see photo on the right) was waiting to drive us the kilometer or so distance into the place where our guide was waiting. This was quite deafeningly loud and bumpy journey indeed! To get into the mine one can also walk as there is sufficient space to the left of the tracks and there were alot of visitors who used their legs.|
|The area around the mine entrance. Note the children's playground again with the large wheel. The building on the right was just adjacent to the mine entrance. The last photo was taken from my carriage near the rear.|
The photos below were taken inside the mine
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|Our train halted just a few yards away from the place where our
guide was waiting. After we disembarked, and before our guide
started to tell us about the mine's history, there was a very loud
bang. On looking in the direction of the din, we saw a small fire
burning on the tracks. I don't know what caused the fire but it was
put out quickly.
Our guide informed us that the temperature in the mine is a constant 18 degrees celsius throughout the year.
|The photos in this row show the mine's famous salt mosque. It was constructed some five decades ago and is used for prayers. It is a simple and small structure, carpeted inside and with minarets at its corners, and if you look closely, you will see electric cables going into its wall. This is for the illumination of the pinkish and whitish salt bricks.|
|More photos of the salt mosque, including a perspective snapshot. I'm standing in front of it in the photo on the extreme right.|
|After spending a short while at the mosque, and listening to our guide's account, we pushed on. Close by, there is a post office constructed of salt bricks (photo on the left. The photo on the right conveys a good impression of the dimensions of the long tunnel open to tourists and which is criss-crossed by a number of openings, and which contains a number of interesting places to see.|
|These are huge salt rocks which have formed in the mine over the passage of many years. They almost look like magical stones.|
|A section of the ceiling. This is the typical robust salt surface with its distinctive pinkish and whitish colour hue that you can expect to find throughout the mine.|
|These photos show the construction site and work being undertaken to create monuments out of salt rocks. When this photo was taken in April, I was told that here a model of the "Minar-i-Pakistan" in Lahore was being constructed. This work has reportedly now been completed.|
|The mine has a number of lakes. These two photos were taken at one of them. Unfortunately, my Sony Cybershot digital camera has this annoying tendency to produce "orbs" every time the flash is used in a dark environment. These orbs show up on dark areas of the photos and can really mess them up. On some photos, like the one on the right, you will see these orbs. I tried to eliminate them with Adobe Photoshop and was more successful on some photos than on others.|
|Now we come to one of the "highlights" of the guided tour - the visit to "Diamong Alley". These photos were taken at the entrance to the tunnel.|
|Look closely at the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. They are encrusted with salt crystals that glitter when light falls on them. The coloured lights give a nice warming effect.|
|Wonderful! Our group members gaze at the walls and ceiling in astonishment. The salt crystals are so firmly embedded, that extracting them requires a real effort, as the man in the photo on the right discovered. Next time I visit the mines I'll take a chisel along.|
|Our group leader stands in the middle of the photo on the left discussing with two group members. In the photo on the right, you see me posing before a wall encrusted with salt crystals. Oh, if only they were real diamonds :=)|
|So, after spending a short while at diamond alley we pressed on. We were then shown various salt formations, many of which have been given names. If I recall correctly, the one in front of which I'm standing (see the photo on extreme right), was named Kashmir point. This is because of its snowy appearance.|
|Another highlight of our guided tour was the visit to the famous "Sheesh Mahal". Some movies were reportedly filmed at this place. Just opposite it, there is a stand where visitors can purchase snacks. It seems to be one of the most popular places to visit and take photos in the mine.|
|Another section of the Sheesh Mahal (photo on left).
In the second photo on the right, you see me standing and looking directly at the camera while visitors mill around the place.
|Another photo (left) of me standing at the Sheesh Mahal (I have
to leave some visual proof that I was here, don't I?).
Our guide, Adalat Khan, poses in the first photo on the right.
|Time to leave the Sheesh Mahal and see some other places. The two photos on the right show another salt lake. These lakes are really marvellous to look at because, the reflection of the ceiling reflects off their surfaces gives the appearance of the ceiling surface actually being the lake ground surface. This effect is not apparent in the photos but I assure you, it's something to marvel at when you're standing there and seeing it with your own eyes.|
|Continuing our journey to the larger lake, I took some snapshots aslong the way. Our guide leader is on the first photo on the right. Note how claustrophobic the place is here. The walls and ceiling almost seem to be moving in on you. This contrasted severely to the wide open spaces I encountered in many other areas of the mine.|
|Here we are at the other lake. I can't remember the dimensions now but this has been measured. I believe they were also doing some construction work here for tourists. There was a big crowd and moving forward became quite a hassle in the cramped place as some people wanted to stand and survey the surroundings, others wanted to come and others wanted to leave.|
|Our guided tour of the mine, which lasted a few hours, nears
its end and our group heads towards the old electric train
waiting to take us out again with a lot of bumps and jolts.
One thing which did cross my mind during the time I spent in the mine was what would happen to me if another earthquake occurred on the scale of the one which devastated northern Pakistan on October 8th, 2005. Would there be any rescue? This thought gave me the creeps.
|Clang, clang, clang - we're on our way out now going the same way we came in. I'm surprised these photos are in focus considering the way I was bobbing up and down in my seat. Just hang on a few more minutes though - there's light at the end of the tunnel!|
The photos below were taken after our group emerged from the mine after the guided tour
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After our memorable tour was over, and we emerged from the mine in that train again and walked down the path to the parking lot where our coaster was standing, we chanced across these vendors selling salt rocks and bricks. I bought one pinkish brick for ten Rupees (about thirteen Euro cents).
|Back in our coaster, the photo on the left was taken shortly before our departure for Islamabad. The photos on the right, taken through the coaster windscreen, show a narrow road just outside the mine compound. Railway tracks leading to the town of Jhelum can be seen in the photo on the extreme right.|
More rail tracks can be seen in the photo on the left. Then we proceeded down the road which took us to the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway. The views of the surrounding countryside from this road were very pretty indeed, especially when we were driving towards Khewra in the morning. From my seat behind the driver, I had a good opportunity to take snapshots like I did of these passing camels.
Some more snapshots of the thirty-five kilometer long road between the salt mine and the Motorway. Note the vast flat terrain between the road and the hills. There are small settlements, roaming cattle and the occasional graves (see second photo on the left). The photo on the right was taken on the Motorway en route to Islamabad.
The photos below were taken on my third visit to the mine on May 6th, 2007
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|Not many visitors came to the mine this time. A group of Japanese tourists did arrive at the same time my parents and I did, though, and they seemed to be enjoying their outing. They even had a Japanese-speaking Pakistani guide with them! The photo on the right shows our train compartment being coupled with another. The photos below show the famous illuminated salt mosque and (last photo on the right) the post office made of salt bricks.|
|A Japanese tourist probes the salt crust on the mine wall. In the first photo on the right is the recent reconstruction from salt of the Minar-i-Pakistan (Pakistan Tower) in Lahore. It was at the Minar in Lahore that the demand for the creation of Pakistan was made in about 1940. The last photo shows a small salt lake.|
|Crossing a salt lake (photos on the left). The photo on the right shows a very old fossil, possibly many millions of years old. How it came in the salt mine is a mystery.|
The photos below were taken on my fourth visit to the mine on June 3rd, 2007
(Click on any photo thumbnail to see its larger version)
|This panorama photo, composed of five individual photos, was taken shortly before we arrived at the mine, approaching it from the GT Road (see also the photo taken on my first visit in 1994 which is in the first photo-gallery at the top of this webpage).|
|That's me in the middle of the photo flanked by Raashid on the left and by Laeeq on the right with the town of Khewra down below in the back. The photo on the right shows our hired driver standing on the left. I asked him to stop at this point so that we could take our photos. The place was in the midst of a rather curvy section of road but there wasn't much traffic and it wasn't difficult to photograph. If you look carefully at the panorama above, you will see many interesting details relating to the geography of the region and the town of Khewra.|
|After parking at the mine, I walked to the ticket counter to purchase admission tickets for Raashid, Laeeq, our driver and myself. You can see the prices on the wooden board behind the counter. As one can see, foreigners are required to pay more than locals. Rather discriminatory I think but then, on the other hand, there is a comparatively large wealth differential (if you exclude the Pakistani upper class, that is). Pakistanis usually think I'm a foreigner so I always take my local ID card along to ensure that I don't pay too much :=)|
|A panorama taken opposite the ticket counter showing the hill in which the mine is located as well as some old buildings which look as if they were constructed during the British era. The flat and fenced in open space in the front can be used for picnics and meals as there are a number of tables and chairs there. It belongs to the mine's administrative complex.|
|The photo on the left was taken at the barred entrance gate to the old (presumably British) buildings just in front of the mine. The semi-panoramic photo on the right shows the intervening space between the buildings and the mine entrance. Seems to be a creek with some little water flowing down the stream. Being mid-Summer, the place gives a very dry appearance.|
|The bridge which leads from the car parking lot to the mine entrance is depicted in the photo on the left. Notice the fluttering flags. Usually, quite windy here I've noticed. The photo of the schoolgirl class on the right was taken almost outside the mine entrance. Apparently, alot of students visit the mine. I find this good because youngsters should be taught at an early age to show interest in, and take care of, such important landmarks. The salt mine at Khewra is a huge national economic and cultural asset and I welcome any efforts to improve on it.|
|OK, so now instead of using the train my companions and I use our legs to reach the meeting point inside the mine. It was a considerable walk but there was a nice cool breeze blowing in our faces which was a welcome respite from the June heat :=)|
|Here we reach the customary
meeting point next to the salt mosque where the guide greets
visitors and shows them around the mine.
The five photos below were taken on the short path that leads away from the mosque towards the salt mound and the recently (from salt constructed) minar-i-Pakistan.
|A close up of the salt mound (left) and Laeeq touching the surface of the wall (right). The series of five photos shown below were all taken in the vicinity of the minar-i-Pakistan. This time, sadly, "diamond alley" was off limits to visitors. Apparently, some idiots have been making a nuisance of themselves there and, as usual, everyone has to suffer for it. Luckily, I snapped some great photos there on my second visit which you can view in the relevant section on this webpage.|
|The famous "Sheesh Mahal" is displayed here. The pinkish colour of the narrow walls is simply awesome to look at. It leads directly to a bridge over a salt lake from where Laeeq is busy at work.|
|Crossing the bridge leads one through another narrow passage at the end of which is a larger salt lake approximately rectangular in shape. The photo on the right shows the smaller of the lakes. It is difficult to photograph the larger lake because of the dim illumination there. By the way, anything which falls in these lakes floats on the surface.|
|Coming back to the entrance of the "Sheesh Mahal" we explore some adjacent openings and also pose for two group photographs.|
|Opposite the steps of the
Sheesh Mahal there is a vendor dselling snacks which I
photographed on my earlier visit (see previous gallery). This
wasn't there on my first visit to the mine in 1994. It's a
relief to be able to buy something to eat and drink if the need
After buying some snacks we started on our walk back down the tunnel to the entrance. Raashid is leading the way here (right). The photos below document the 15-20 minute journey which included dodging an incoming train.
|Two panorama photos here. The left one was taken above the mine entrance from a spot I reached by climbing a flight of stairs. The photo on the right, taken from the same spot, shows the mine entrance and a small adjacent building. The road behind this building leads to an ashtma clinic where salt is used in the therapy process.|
|Raashid and Laeeq inspecting salt
products on the bridge in the photo on the left.
A small shed and a children's playground can be seen in the photos on the right.
|The wall on the photo on the left
bears a sign containing some quranic verse whose translation I don't
know. It may be related to salt.
The two photos on the right show the administrative area again in front of the ticket counter. Note the colourful covering over the tables and seats.
|After leaving the mine compound,
Raashid and Laeeq wanted to see some of the shops nearby selling
salt products. The photos above and on the right were taken in a
couple of adjacent shops. My friends purchased a few items.
Finally, after the shopping we embarked on our journey in our rent-a-car back to Islamabad via the motorway.
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