A foreign journalist, Tim Sebastian, once commented that Pakistan is the land of opportunities, but unfortunately it lacks competent managers. Indifferent to the second part of the statement, here I would like to share my feelings about the first part of his statement which captivated me a lot. I felt honoured when I heard a foreigner venerating my homeland. Indubitably, Pakistan is one of those luckiest countries that are ideally located on the map of this globe. It’s blessed with all the four types of weather. There isn’t any dearth of natural resources in this part of the world. Our chains of mountains are crammed with mineral deposits. We have the finest irrigational system. Labourers are quite dedicated in their respective fields. And for that reasons the subcontinent is truly named “the golden sparrow”.
My credence on the aforementioned viewpoints was further strengthened when I had a chance to visit Khewra, the second biggest salt mine of the world and the greatest treasure of our country. This recreational-cum-educational trip of my school was one of the most unforgettable days of my life. Probably, it was the second time when I got up in the morning along with the birds. Weather was quite pleasant. Chirping birds in trees, the coquettish rays of rising sun and the puffs of cool zephyr were heralding the arrival of winters. After attiring school uniform and a hurried breakfast I rushed towards my Alma Mater.
To my surprise, the school bus was ready even before my arrival. We set out for our destination at about 6.30 am. The journey was delightful. After going through the undulating mountainous areas, we reached Khewra at about 11.30 am after five hours of incessant driving.
Khewra salt mines are located in Jehlam District, 30 km east of Lilla interchange towards Pind Dadan Khan. There we were surrounded far and wide by hilly area. The giant mountains loaded with minerals and lavish vegetation, the hide and seek of sun, the novelty of the air and the beauty of cattle; everything seemed crooning the praise of Almighty Allah. Forming lines, we entered the tunnel of the salt mines where we were escorted by a courteous guide. Before proceeding further the guide told us the rules and regulations that were to be followed during the visit and expected decent attitude from all of us.
The Khewra salt mines were discovered in 327BC. Out of its 17 storeys, 11 are under and six above the ground. But the only storey that is designed for tourists is the sixth one. The other 16 storeys are meant for labourers to excavate an assortment of salt out there. According to the guide the sixth storey of the mine is 937 feet above sea level. The temperature inside the mine remains 18 degree centigrade throughout the year which serves the labourers duly. During summers the outside temperature tends to remain more than 18 degrees and that’s why the mine serves them as a cooling room. And similarly in winters when outside temperature falls down to nine degrees, the salt mine functions like a heater.
After tracking one km long tunnel, we entered a square named Chandni Chowk. Here the only thing we could see ubiquitously was “salt”. It was the very first time that we found ourselves surrounded by salt. From Chandni Square, we, along with our guide, moved towards right where at a little distance we saw a large room made of salt. The guide told us that this particular salt room acts as a clinic for asthma patients. If asthma afflicted persons stay in this particular room for six hours continuously they can get rid of this vicious ailment without any sort of medical treatment.
A few steps ahead from the clinic there is a tremendous mosque made of salt. It was built about 55 years ago. This is the only salt-made mosque of the world and has been given the name of Badshahi Masjid. To beautify the mosque, various colours of salt bricks have been used. Three pertinent types of salt bricks, iron mineral, sodium chloride and magnesium, which are red, white and pink in colour respectively, have been used for the construction of this mosque. Electric bulbs have been fixed inside the bricks and when they are lit they present an awesome scenario.
The brine ponds
Interestingly, some areas in the mine from where salt has been excavated have turned into brine pounds. The salty water that seeps through mine walls and roof amasses in these pounds eventually. There are several such water-filled chambers inside the mine but only a few of them have been illuminated for tourism purposes. The most astonishing thing is that no one can sink in these ponds. (It’s because the water in the ponds is of high density).
The assembly hall and Pul-Saraat
There is a vast hall inside the mine. It measures about 75m in height. The thing that captivates the visitors is the circle of stairs that goes around the hall to the top. Pul-Saraat is a salt bridge that has no pillars whatsoever to hold it. It is just a narrow strip of pure rocky salt with 80 feet deep ponds of brine on both sides.
Tourist refreshment point
As the salt mine is the centre of tourists’ attraction, a “tourist refreshment point” is situated inside the mine. You are quite right in your guess: the prices of commodities here touch the seventh sky but there is a thing we call Majbooree ka nam shukria.
The walls of purports and love
After taking a breather at the refreshment point we headed towards a narrow lane that’s located near the refreshment point. The right and the left salt walls of the lane are called Dewar-i-Murad (The wall of purports) and Dewar-i-Muhabbat (The wall of love) respectively. It was spellbinding when the guide told that by licking these walls one can get one’s purport and love. As soon as the guide made this particular announcement we the blockheaded souls started licking the walls as strongly as we could. We students were not the only ones who were duped by the guide trickily; some of our teachers also shared the same plot with us. They also passed their tongue over the salty walls in order to achieve their “love and purports”. It’s the funniest time we had there.
Pakistan Post Office
You might be surprised as to what PPO has to do with Khewra. But it’s a fact, there is a fully functional post office made of salt bricks inside the mine from where one can easily send letters, etc. all over the world. The postal code of this particular post office is 48530.
Minar-i-Paksitan and other illustrious models
Inside the mine there are some most illustrious salt-made structures that glow under light in beautiful shades. These wall carvings contain the models of Minar-i-Pakistan Lahore, Great Wall of China, Shimla Mount of Lahore, Mall Road of Murree, statue of Allama Iqbal and many more. All these structures are made of salt that emit pink, white and red lights when lit up.
When we were about to bid adieu to Khewra mines, we came across a narrow electric train inside the tunnel. This train accommodates the visitors from the visitors’ gate to a track juncture some 500m inside the tunnel. However, the driver of the train was not available otherwise we might have had relished the train journey as well.
According to the guide, Khewra Salt mine chips in 1,200 tons of salt on daily basis. And this precious asset of our country is determined to serve the nation for the next five to six centuries. It was one of the most unforgettable days of my life and I would suggest all the young readers to pay a visit to the mine. I’m sure you’ll have a good time out there and would acknowledge the richness of your homeland.
(DAWN, 12 April 2008)