About the Khera Salt Mines

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The Story Behind Khewra Salt Mines 

As we outlined in our Himalayan salt lamp review, the finest quality Himalayan salt lamps are said to originate from the Khewra salt mine located along the Himalayan mountain range.

The Khewra salt mine is only 1,000 feet high and lies 100 miles south of Islamabad. It dates back to more than 23 centuries with the campaigns of Alexander the Great, which came as far eastward as they’d get. Alexander was victorious over Porus along the Jhelum River. A look at Google Earth, and you’ll see what the Khewra salt mines are very close to this river.  

​Alexander’s so-called geography experts claimed he had only 600 miles to go to reach the end of the world. If he’d conquered the rest of India, he could have attained his goal. However, while marching a little further, Alexander’s army started to feel less than confident, especially upon hearing about 300,000 coalition troops congregating along the Ganges River. 

Of course, this meant Alexander the Great ended up not conquering the entire world.

Sometime during his travels along the Jhelum River, some of the army’s horses began licking the stones. These stones, as the men found out, were salty… along with what was known as the Salt Range. 

Is this true? No one really knows!

The only one thing people do know is that Alexander the Great was given credit for many things during the British’s occupation of the area. 

Documented Mining Of Mines

However, it wasn’t until the 13th century with Janjua-Raja tribe that organized mining was documented. The ancient world’s view of salt’s importance led to the small-scale mining operations. 

The Mughal Empire began in 16th century with Emperor Babur. A descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamurlane, it’s not surprising that his followers would use the mines until they were no longer of any use. 

In 1809, the Punjabi Sikhs took over the mines, eventually calling it Khewra. However, they didn’t have control over the salt mines for long – the British took them over 40 years later. 

The British Take Over With Their Business Mindset 

And, the British were all business. They took hold of the salt mines and ran it properly (renaming it Mayo salt mine after the Viceroy of India’s Lord Mayo. They also used forced local labor and tunnel excavation. Forced labor included men, women and children who were locked in the salt mines until they met their salt quotas. During a protest in 1876, 12 people were killed. 

Things might have been much worse, if not for that tunnel engineer in charge. He used the room-and-pillar method to excavate the mine. If he had gone with the older methods, the mine would have collapsed, trapping and killing those working in it. This method intentionally left half of the mineral deposit alone. 

It was estimated the salt reserves were in the hundreds of millions of tons, with the mine generating about 350,000 tons of salt annually. It would be centuries before someone would try using the pillars for its salt. 

The Current State Of The Salt Mines 

After World War I, heavy equipment was used, then steam engines and afterward electricity thanks to two 500hp diesel generators. Modern equipment means a plethora of salt being mined and produced. Currently, the mine’s tunnel network reaches 25 miles in 19 levels. 

In the last few years, the mine has been in financial trouble. To turn a profit, the Pakistani Development Corporation has used a tourism angle, with much success. According to Wikipedia, the mine sees around 250,000 visitors every year. The main shaft was converted into a tourist attraction, and includes:

  • An underground mosque created out of salt blocks
  • A food court
  • The Minar-e-Pakistan (the Tower of Pakistan) created out of salt blocks

Health-conscious visitors can use any of the 20 beds for salt therapy, which people believe to help with breathing problems. 

Despite the tourism development, there’s not been much happening with the Khewra salt mine in recent times.
Khewra Salt Mine