The Khewra Salt Mines, near Pind Dadan Khan, in the Salt Range region of Punjab, Pakistan is truly a ‘Wonder of the World’. The Salt Range originated 800 million years ago, when the 300 km area under sea water evaporated, followed by geological movement.
Having visited the mines on several occasions I can personally recommend that it is a must for any tourist.
Khewra, is 100 miles south of Islamabad and is easily accessible from the M2 motorway, at the Lilla interchange.
The Khewra Salt Mines are the oldest and largest in Pakistan and second largest in the world. 250 000 visitors attend each year, many from abroad, they are transported into the mines via a train. Trains have been used since the 1930s, initially bringing out the loaded salt carts.
Legend has it the when Alexander the Great made his way across Asia in 320BC, his army stopped off locally. It was observed that his army’s horses begin licking the rocks, leading to the discovery of the rock salt.
Evidence of salt trading dates back to the Mughal era, then followed by the Sikh regime. The British took over the mines in 1849. Dr Warth, a British mining engineer created the main tunnel in 1872. Then the area was further developed and more efficient means of salt extraction was initiated.
Currently 350 000 tonnes of salt is produced per year. The estimated reserves in the mines are between 80 and 600 million tons. The rock salt or halite is 99% pure. The salt is mined at 18 levels or stories, 8 being above ground and 10 below.
Also known as ‘Himalayan’ salt it has attractive colours, including reds, pinks, off white or transparent.
Underground the mines cover an area of 43 square miles. The total length of the tunnels is 25 miles. The underground temperature is a constant, comfortable 18-20C.
Tourism is a major industry with tours organised underground via the electric small train. Inside there is a beautiful 75 metre high ‘assembly hall’, a salt bridge and cafe. Miniature salt models of the Great Wall of China, Mall Road of Murree and Minar-e-Pakistan are present. The illuminated Mosque made of multicoloured salt bricks is a favourite for many. Rock salt ornaments eg. lamps and other decoration pieces can be purchased. They are also exported worldwide as ‘Himalayan rock salt’ items.
Mosque made from rock salt bricks
The mines are operated by the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, a Government department.
Interestingly in 2007, an underground clinical ward with 20 beds was developed on a trial basis for the salt therapy treatment of respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease. The feedback has been generally positive and patients from around the world have attended for an inpatient stay in the pure environment of the salt caves.
If you plan to visit the Khewra Salt Mines also drop off at the other local tourist attractions which include Mughal era Kallar Kahar, the ancient Buddhist temples of Katas and the historic military village of Dulmial, with its British cannon war memorial.