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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Punjab Urial (Salt Range)

This is a report of Punjab Urial, which lives in the hills of the Salt Range, Punjab.

The Urial is a mammal of the genus Ovis of the order Artiodactyla. This is a wild sheep species where the male’s horns are thick and curve back in large arcs over their head, and a long tuft of hair under the neck. In South to Central Asia, they inhabit mountainous areas. In the past, they were considered the same species as the Ladakh Urial, but in the 2016 issue of “Bovids of the World,” the Punjab Urial of Pakistan became an independent species.

This is an endemic species to Pakistan and inhabits only the Salt Range and Kala Chitta Range, between the Jhelum and Indus Rivers in Punjab.

The Punjab Urial habitat includes gentle rocky slopes and thick with shrubs.

This was our visit to the Potohar Community Reserve. Currently, Punjab state has 5 CBO (Community Based Organizations), and this was the smallest one. Established in 2017, the hunting of Urial was banned on the Reserve so since then, the small population has been steadily increased.

CBO’s are private Reserves which offer an auction (mainly focused on foreign hunters), to allow hunting rights to the older male Urial with large horns. The proceeds are said to be divided in the community and used for conservation management. The so-called “Trophy Size” Urial are males that have horns between 28 – 31 inches (71-79 cm). According to the ranger who was with our group, this system has helped improve the situation over all for Urial. These older males are 12 to 13 years old and will die at around 14, even if they are left alone, so the hunting auction is helpful to the community and will support the conservation of the other Urials.

As a side note, in 2020, 3 hunter permits where assigned to each CBO, with a total of 15 annual hunting permits issued throughout Punjab. The price at the auction goes up to $15,000 to $16,000 USD per head. Certainly, this income for the community is a significant amount. At Pothar CBO, 16 rangers were working to crack down on the poaching activities and the Urial are being protected.

A heard of Punjab Urial. It was not that large of a group, it seems only 6-8 Urial are usually in each heard.

These are the female Urial. Their horns are small and straight.

This is a young male Punjab Urial.

This male watching us from behind the shrubs is a “trophy size” male. Unlike the females and young males, these large-horned males are much more fearful of people. Like they know that they are sought after.

For a brief moment, the “trophy sized” horned male allowed us to see him.

He was such a magnificent example of the Punjab Urial, with the large, curved horns and long tufts of hair on his neck.

And in no time, it was gone. This encounter helped us realize the effects of high hunting pressure that had been taking place as a result of the poaching that was taking place until very recently. Things might change, as we have seen with the Markhor and the Ibex in these northern mountainous regions of Pakistan, as the Urial populations grow and the limited, controlled hunting takes place.

The Punjab Urial populations were reduced by livestock that were overgrazing the habitat and by the highway dividing up the wild Urial herds. But now that the auction system was introduced, the protection has improved for the Urial.

The ranger who was with us, told me that I was the first foreigner who was not a hunter, to come to this Reserve.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Potohar CBO, Punjab
Reference: Bovids of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

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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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