The sun was burning down as if it especially rose on the sky this morning to torture the exhausted men and their just as miserable horses. The emaciated and scared animals have come all the way from Macedonia, survived the battles in Persia they had to carry their cavaliers through and now finally arrived here, in this remote patch of earth on the foot of the Himalaya. Everyone was weak, many men and horses were wounded and dozens of them had to be left behind. They have been marching for thousands of kilometres, spend days fighting, looting, raping, leaving behind the devastating evidence of their king’s violence.
Their king with his insatiable desire to own the whole world. At this moment they did not know that the hardest challenge would still be ahead of them. Once they would have gotten deeper into the Punjab region they would retrieve themselves in hell on earth, located by the river bank of the Jhelum stream where uncountable soldiers would find their death.
But for now their were in this surreal mountain range in an inhospitable back country in the middle of nowhere. Rocky mounds of light brown, grey and even pink rocks, spiked with patches of yellow grass wherever they looked. They decided to settle down in a sheltered valley inside of a parched river bed for a couple of days. Here they could easily site guards on the hills surrounding the area, working in shifts and keeping the rest of the group safe from potential attackers. They needed to recover and restore their strength.
Soon the men noticed that the horses seemed to have special interest in the pink rocks. They could see them licking the chunks intensely, especially in the early morning hours when the ground was still a bit moist from the morning dew. And with big surprise after a couple of days they could even observe a physical recovery of those horses they already gave up on. Licking the rocks seemed to have cured them…
This story, maybe more or less happening like this, took place 326 BC, when Alexander the Great crossed what we nowadays know as Pakistan in his India Campaign. And like described above, it was not his soldiers or his allies that discovered the massive salt mine lying in this northern Pakistani mountain range, but his horses.
Today,Khewra Salt Mines are the 2nd largest Rock Salt Mines in the world with estimated total of 220 million tones of rock salt deposits. The mines produce around 325,000 tons salt – per year.
Decoration pieces like lamps, vases, ashtrays etc. are also made and exported from Khewra Rock Salt. I bet most of you have one of those atmospheric pink lamps or use Himalaya salt in their kitchen.
This is the place where those products come from!
To enter the part of the mine that is open for visitors you have to purchase a ticket. For the first time I was really frustrated by the price different between locals and foreigners. While our Savaree-Captain, who we invited to join us since it was also his first time at the mines only had to pay around 2€ (1.5 £/ 2$) it were 20€ (15£/ 21.50$) for Chris and me. (It is not that I do not understand why I should pay a little bit more, given that I probably also earn more money than the average Pakistani. But 20€ is also a lot of money to me, and I would reconsider all around the world if I actually want to spend that much money for an entrance fee. Especially if you are on a tight student budget like me. But that is another story anyway…)
The obligatory amusement park of course should not be missed. For no money on this planet would I dare to take a ride on one of those “fun” rides. It’s the obvious lack of European Safety Standards all over again…. 😉 At the entrance to the mine you can decide if you want to walk into the mine, or take a little train. For obvious reasons I was perfectly fine with walking!
You enter the mine into almost complete darkness. Slowly the eyes get used to it and you follow the rusty train tracks towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile you try not to stumble into a puddle or to touch one of the dangling electric cables. Behind you approaches a moan and drone, it sizzles and rattles and you try to press yourself against the wet pink wall as close as possible to let the screaming and spark emitting little train pass. I really did not regret to refuse going on that mad ride!
Inside the mine you can find miniatures of some Pakistani landmarks made of salt rocks. For example the Badshahi Mosque, fully functional with a prayer area and a mihrab facing Mecca:
Or a replica of the Minar-e-Pakistan:
The centrepiece is the Shish Mahal, the Mirror Palace. A pink cave filled with water which is only accessible by passing a bridge made of salt… Well, nobody said a visit in Pakistan would be without any risk! 😉
And then, within all this magic and mystical beauty, in the middle of this cave that looks and feels so organic that you almost imagine being inside of a living creature, there is
Why? Well because.. Pakistan!
Khwera Salt Mines:
Open for tourists from 9 am to 6 pm daily (including Sunday and gazetted holidays)
Foreign tourists are charged US$ 20 per person (The official website says it is 6$, but when I was there in September 2015 this price was already outdated!)
There is a 50% discount for students and children (But only locals)
There is also a parking fee ranging from Rs.10 to Rs.50 per vehicle (depending upon the type/capacity of vehicle).
160 kms away from Rawalpindi/Islamabad via G.T. Road through Rawat-Mandra-Dudyal-Chakwal-Bhaun-Choa Saidan Shah-Khewra.
260 kms from Lahore via Lahore-Islamabad Motorway (M-2) through Lilla or Kallar Kahar Interchange.
Hire a car with a driver (for example www.savaree.co).
There is a train station nearby and I was also told that I could go there by train. But when we passed the station it was shut down, and also would be quite a long walk from the station to the mine