Riding the Minecart Train Through the Khewra Salt Mine

The Khewra Salt Mine is the world’s second largest rock salt mine, where it is commonly sold as “pink salt” or “Himalayan rock salt.”

This rock salt mine on the Potohar Plateau in the Salt Range of the Punjab Region, which was discovered back in the time of King Alexander the Great. The salt was said to be discovered in 326 BC when the horse of Alexander the Great was licking the ground, during his expedition to India. The commercial mining began during the Mughal Empire, and the main tunnel was excavated in 1872, during the British Indian Empire, when the large-scale mining began.

Articles about pink salt and Himalayan rock salt:Salt Range- The salt range that produces the Himalayan rock salt

Visitors can see the operations inside the Khewra Rock Salt Mines. In 1930, the British Indian Empire started a 600mm minecart train for tourists to be able to go inside the mines.

We entered the mine using this minecart train. The Salt mine has a section for tourists, and a section that is still actively being mined.

Once your train reaches Chandni Chowk, you will get off the train and start walking into the mine with a guide. The passengers of the minecart train are divided into groups, with tour guides who speak Urdu for the Pakistani tourists and English, for the foreigners.

On both sides of the passage, there are traces of mining dating back to the Mughal era.

There are pools where the rainwater collects in the old quarry, and this saturated saline solution is connected by a hose and sent to the factory outside to be sold.

As you walk down the tunnel, there will appear a mosque made of the colorful salt blocks. The red colored blocks are high in iron, and the pink colored salt is high in magnesium.

This “Rock Salt Mosque” is based on the motif of Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, and according to the guide it was built more than 50 years ago.

Then, we reached a space that was like a large hall. There were salt icicles and stalactite formations. The cannons that were used in old mining operations were also on display. And in the back, there was a famous monument, called the “Minar-e-Pakistan”。

These two monuments, the Minar-e-Pakistan and the Badshahi Mosque are often mentioned in the advertisements for the Salt Mine. They were probably built around the same time.

The original Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore was built in 1940, where the All-Indian Muslim Alliance passed the Lahore Resolution (later called the Pakistani Resolution). It was the first official statement calling for the independence of a Muslim homeland in British India and is a symbol of the birth of Pakistan.

Then just a short distance down the main path, is the Crystal Palace.

There is a light that shines on the tunnel walls that changes from Green, to red, then blue; so it was too bad that we couldn’t see the original color of the walls. But the surface of the walls were shining with salt crystals; which had various shapes like small dice, and columns.

This area called Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), with the transparent wall of shiny pink salt.

Towards the back of Sheesh Mahal, the surface of the salty water reflected the crystal-encrusted walls like a mirror.

With this, we made the round-trip back to the minecart train and came out the same way we went in.

The Khewra Salt Mine is an easy day trip from Islamabad and Lahore. Not only is this the magnificent place where the continents of India and Eurasia collided, it is also where Alexander the Great’s war horse discovered the rock salt, and where you can experience the mines as they were opened in the Mughal era…the visit is an adventurous and historic trip back in time.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jan 2022, Khewra Salt Mine, Punjab

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley
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Katas Raj Temple, the Hindu Temple of Pakistan

Surprisingly, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there are still some Hindu pilgrimage sites. Nani Mandir of Balochistan and the Chandragup Mud Volcano, which I have introduced in earlier blogs, are examples of these remaining pilgrimage sites. Until 1947, when India and Pakistan separated and became independent (from the British Indian Empire), many Hindus lived in Pakistan at the time.

The Katas Raj Temple is a Hindu temple complex located on the Potohar Plateau in the Salt Range of the Punjab Province. Several temples are surround a sacred pond called Amrit Kund. The beautiful waters of Amrit Kund are found in the stories of Indian mythology. The story goes that the lake was made from the tears shed from the Lord Shiva after his first wife, Sati, died and he was inconsolable.

In 2005, the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani visited the Temple, and noting the decaying appearance of it at that time, the Pakistani Government started cleaning up the holy pond and repairing the buildings in 2006. However, even though the lake had been cleaned up by 2012, the water levels suddenly dropped. There was a big lawsuit against a nearby cement company which was found to be the cause in the drop in water levels. Although water levels have recovered a little, it has not returned to its original state since.

The ceiling of the Baradari (Pavillion) near Amrit Kund was in the process of being restored. The pattens of plants have been redrawn, with a notable influence of Islamic design.

Near the holy pond, a special Shiva Temple enshrines the Lord Shiva. The priest told us, “Although the COVID-19 Pandemic has decreased the number of pilgrims, we expect more people from Pakistan to come during the next Maha Shivaratri Festival.”

This is inside one of the rooms of the Hanuman Temple, part of the complex. Some of the old murals remain intact.

From one of the Hindu mythological stories, taken from “Ramayana” seems to be represented in this mural. It looks like an army of monkeys was engraved here. It seems that the faces have been scraped off.

The image of Ganesha is painted on a wall of the Hanuman Temple.

The Shree Rama Chandra Temple was restored on the outside. However, the interior was still in need of restoration.

This is one of the mural paintings on the second floor of the Shree Rama Chandra Temple. It has a very typical Indian look.

The Hindu Temple Complex was also the home (haveli) of Hari Singh. He was the last monarch of the Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu, who decided to assign Jammu and Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947, with the separation of India and Pakistan. At that time, the ruling class in Jammu and Kashmir was Hindu, but most of the residents were Muslims, so it was a very difficult decision to make for Hari Singh. However, there was an invasion of Pakistani troops for which he needed the support to fight them, so he decided to ally with India.

The courtyard and outside of the building are fairly simple, and were in the process of being restored.

At the top of the Complex hill is the Sat Ghara Temple. It is a thick stone building.

Just downhill from the Sat Ghara Temple, are the remains of a stupa. It was hard for me to believe it when I heard it, but an investigation was conducted by the British archeologist Alexander Cunningham, which concluded that the pagoda was made during the time of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Once the Gandhara culture declined, the Hindu Temples of Katas Raj were build during the prosperous Hindu culture in between the years of 7th – 10th centuries.

You can stroll around the temples yourself, but if you request a guide at the entrance, you can also see inside the temples that are normally locked, so I recommend you take the tour with the guide!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jan 2022, Chakwal, Punjab

Category : - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Salt Range: Himalayan Rock Salt Mine’s Mountain Range

Most of the rock salt distributed in the world as “Himalayan Rock Salt” and “Pink Salt” is produced in the salt mines of Pakistan. Among them, the Khewra Salt Mine is famous, as it is also known as a tourist destination where people can see inside the mine and see the underground mosque that is carved into the pink rock salt.

For this visit, we did not go there to see the popular tourist destination, but instead, to have the opportunity for searching for the Punjab Urial, wildlife which lives in the “Salt Range” the mountainous range near the salt mines.

The Salt Range is the southern tip of the Himalayas in Pakistan’s Punjab area, between the Pothohar Plateau in the south, to the Jhelum River in the north.

Himalayan rock salt is produced from a thick evaporite layer, dating back from the Ediacaran period to the early Cambrian (600-540 million years ago) in the fold and thrust belt of the salt range. The layers of the Cambrian and Eocene sedimentary rocks that were pushed up onto the newer age sedimentary rocks and eroded away, revealing the salt range.

The fossils of the ancient seas were unearthed as a result of the collision between the Indian continent and Eurasian continent, showing us how magnificent and historically significant these area is.

This is one of the many rock salt mines found on the Pothohar Plateau.

There is a particular story about the salt range that captures the imagination. Legend has it that Alexander the Great’s army discovered this salt range. During his expedition in India, in 326 BC, it is said that Alexander the Great’s war horse was licking the ground and that was how they realized the salt was there. In fact, the Battle of Hydaspes, which was a battle between Alexander the Great’s army and the Indian King, is on the banks of the Jhelum River (the Ancient Greeks called it Hydespas) and they had to have passed this salt range.

The surface around the entrance to one of the salt mines is encrusted with salt crystals.

The truck enters the quarry. According to the truck driver, the mining site is more than 2 kilometers away, so it needs to be carried out by truck.

This is one of the trucks that came out, loaded with salt. It must be a considerable weight, so it needs to go slowly on these unpaved roads.

The history of the rock salt mines began around 1200 AD, and the rock salt trade was active during the Mughal Empire. In 1872, under the British colony, the main tunnel of the Khewra Rock Salt Mine was built and made into a full-scale operation.

We walked into just one of the many mines of the salt range.

This is Himalayan rock salt that has been crushed into small pieces and commercialized for rock salt mills. In the past, there were no fancy hand-held mills, so rock salt was commonly sold as a powder or rock blocks, but now it is commonly sold as a set with smaller crushed salt and a mill in a fashionable package. It is a popular souvenir for foreign tourists because it is cheap and used in their daily lives. However, be careful because it is heavy for traveling.

This is the traditional use of Himalayan rock salt in northern Hunza. The chai is served salted instead of sweetened with sugar, in the Hunza region. The block of rock salt is used to stir it into the cup of hot chai.

This piece of salt was carried all the way from the Punjab salt range, to the villages of the Karakoram mountains, and the rock salt is indispensable for daily use in their hot chai.

 

Image & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Dec 2020, Potohar, Punjab

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley
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White-browed Wagtail – Soon Valley

A White-browed Wagtail observed in Uchhali Lake in Soon Valley. Uchhali Lake is a salty blackish water lake and insects live on the shore; where birds feed upon.
At the lake pier, we saw a pair of White-browed Wagtail  feeding on the insects.
White-browed Wagtail is 21cm in length, the largest among Wagtail family.
White-browed Wagtail is endemic to Indian sub-continent. In Pakistan, it lives in northern Punjab year-round.

A White-browed Wagtail carrying material for  the nest.
You can listen to the beautiful songs during the breeding season from March to October.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab

Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Black-winged Stilt – Soon Valley

A Black-winged Stilt observed at Uchhali lake in the Soon Valley. It was feeding on the underwater invertebrates in the shallow water.
Black-winged Stilt is a widely spread water bird; mainly found in Europe, Africa, and South Asia, and is characterized by its long red foot.
When it flies, its feet resemble the tail feathers.
In Pakistan, it travels as a summer bird in northern Punjab. Moreover, it is observed all year round in the waters of southern Punjab, Sindh and on the coast of Balochistan.

 

Uchhali Lake with black saltwater reflecting the exquisite scenery around the lake.

 

The lake is surrounded by lush green mountains and tranquil villages.

 

If there is no wind, the lake surface reflects the view as a clear mirror.

 

A beautiful and crystal-clear sight of Black-winged Stilt reflected on the surface of the lake, just like a mirror.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Pied Avocet –Soon Valley

A flock of Pied Avocets observed in Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley.
Pied Avocet breeds in Europe and Central Asia and travels to Africa and South Asia in the winter season.
In Pakistan, Pied Avocet’s wintering starts on the Indus river basin, lakes, wetlands, and the Arabian Sea coast. Breeding has also been observed in the lagoons of Balochistan coast.

We could not observe it nearby, but its characteristic feathers; black and white wing and the long beak that had warped, and the gray leg, it was undoubtedly a Pied Avocet.

A person in the background herding camels and Pied Avocet in the foreground… It was a very unique and gorgeous view of nature and people together.

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Greater Flamingo in sunset – Soon Valley

We visited Uchhali Lake located in Soon Valley, from Islamabad. The trip’s duration was 1 night and 2 days.
Blessed with the weather, we were able to observe the Greater Flamingos in the gorgeous evening golden light.

Northern Shoveler and Greater Flamingo.

Greater Flamingos flying on a sparkling golden lake’s surface.

Greater Flamingos on the lake’s shore.

Greater Flamingos taking off.

A flock of Greater flamingos flying above Uchhali Lake.

As soon as the sunset, the flamingos became a silhouette. We were so excited to photograph these birds until the dark. If you really want to capture the true beauty of flamingos, then the golden hour is the best time.
No doubt, it was a very lovely day at Uchhali Lake.

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Greater Flamingo – Soon valley

There are several lakes in Soon Valley located 150 km southeast of Islamabad, some of the famous lakes in this region serving as a habitat for birds are Kallar Kahar Lake, Khabeki Lake, and Uchhali Lake. Comparatively, Uchhali Lake is the best spot for migratory birds to spend winter season. It attracts migratory flamingos due to its salty blackish shallow water.

There were almost no ducks in late March when I visited, but there were more than 200 flamingos.
According to the locals, 20 to 40 birds have been observed so far, but such a large flock is the first time.
In 2016 no flamingos came to this lake, but since mid of 2018, more than 200 birds came and were still in Uchhali Lake.

Greater flamingos flying over the village.
It is said that a Greater Flamingo has an irregular migratory pattern and the local people were also wondering that it has been staying at Uchhali Lake for about 11 months already.

I’m worried that if their habitat is lost due development, there might be nowhere for these flamingos to go…

Greater flamingos are the largest flamingos in the flamingo family at 120cm to 140 cm.
“The largest flamingo” colors Pakistan’s sky. It was an unexpected scene!

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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