In existence for more than 2000 years, the Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan rank second in the world with an annual production of 325,000 tons of salt. In spite of its projected lifetime production of 220 million tons, Khewra contributes to a mere speck in Pakistan’s total salt reserves which are estimated to be in excess of 6 billion tons.
Though the salt trade wasn’t recorded until the 1200s under the Janjua-Raja clan, its existence dates back to Alexander the Great. The Khewra Salt Mines comprise of 11 levels covering an area of 110 sq. km, at a depth of 748 ft. The tunnels run 40 km into the heart of the mountains before reaching the salt deposits.
Of the massive salt reserves only 50% can actually be mined for fear of cave-ins. The un-mined areas are now being carved and designed to form fascinating structures that are proving to be popular tourist attractions for both foreigners and locals.
The large labor force working to beautify these mines have so far sculpted a replica of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Mall road in Murree, Lahore’s Shimla Hill, Minar-e-Pakistan and what is perhaps the greatest man-made structure of all time — the Great Wall of China. Each work of art is adorned with lighting bricks to accentuate every feature.
Other attractions include a 75 meter assembly hall with chairs lining-up the walls of the mine and a projection of the ‘Pul-e-Saraat’ (the bridge that one must cross on the ‘Judgment Day’, which according to Islamic teachings will be thinner than a strand of hair and sharper than a sword) made entirely of salt. The mine also houses brine pools and exquisite salt-crystal formations like stalactites.
The Khewra Salt Mines are fully-equipped with an electric railway to tour the place and a fully-functional post office for miners, the first post office in the world to be constructed entirely out of salt bricks and also the first to be situated inside a mine.
Aside from being a popular tourist attraction, the Khewra Salt Mines also hold a historic significance. The Salt Mines were previously a setting of British oppression where miners, including pregnant women and children, were held hostage until they completed their work quotas. Strikes and protests against such treatment were answered by the British through bloodshed like the incident of 1876 when 12 children were shot at the entrance of the mine.
Today, that very same entrance serves as their resting place.