The Khewra Salt Mine and Its Discovery
Khewra Salt Mine, also called Mayo Salt Mine, has the unique reputation of being the second largest salt mine in the world, after Sifto Canada, Inc. found in Ontario, Canada. That in itself makes Khewra a major point of interest for people visiting Pakistan as tourists. Obviously, its large size also makes it very useful in other aspects, including speleotherapy. Khewra is found in the Punjab Region of Pakistan, and it is the country’s largest salt mine. Below is more information on how Khewra Salt Mine was discovered, its history, how it is used for speleotherapy, and its role in boosting the local economy as a top tourist destination in the country.
Though the history of the mine dates back to the era of Alexander the Great in 326 BC when his troops came upon the mine, it did not begin serving an economic purpose until the Mughal era. Technically, neither Alexander the Great nor his soldiers discovered the mine, but by his men’s horses, which were found licking the salt rocks. Alexander passed the Jhelum and Mianwali region during his Indian campaign when he stopped to rest in the place currently known as Khewra. It was then that horses started licking the salt. It is said that he tried doing so himself and liked the taste.
During the Mughal era, the salt was used for trade in places as far as Central Asia. After the collapse of Mughal empire, the mine fell into the control of Sikhs, during which time the salt was eaten in addition to being used for trade. The sikhs later lost control of the mine to the British after they came to the region. In the year 1872, which was still during the British rule, Dr. H. Warth, a mining engineer, developed the mine’s main tunnel at ground level.
Generally, during this period, the British greatly improved on the mine in several ways since it was facing numerous problems at the time they took over control. Among the problems facing the mine included a difficult rocky terrain to the mine, poor supply of water inside the mine, lack of a warehouse for storing the mined salt, ineffective salt mining techniques, and so forth. The British government dealt with all these problems and also introduced penalties to discourage salt smugglers.
After Pakistan got its independence from the British, the operation of the mine went into the hands of Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, which is owned by the Pakistan government. The corporation currently produces over 350,000 tons of salt per year. At this rate, the mine is expected to last for over three centuries.
However, as of today, it is still not clear how much salt exists within the mine. Estimations vary wildly, with some sources saying there could be just 82 million tons while others claim the salt reserves could be as high as 600 million tons. Some records even claim that the mines contain a massive 6.687 billion tons of salt.
The salt that comes from the Khewra Salt Mine is around 99% halite, and it contains trace amounts of Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc. The salt obtained from Khewra Salt Mine is also called Himalayan salt, which is the best-known rock salt in Pakistan. The salt is characteristically red, pink, off-white, or even transparent appearance. The uses of Himalayan salt are quite extensive. For instance, in addition to serving as raw material for several industries, the salt is also used as cooking salt, as bath salt, and also as brine.
The Use Of Khewra Salt Mine For Speleotherapy
Speleotherapy, also called halotherapy, is the belief that exposure to a salty environment in an underground setting provides numerous health benefits. In fact, speleo is the Greek word for cave. Obviously, this makes the massive subterranean space that constitutes the Khewra salt mine an ideal place for this method of healing. Many people are believers in the basic concept behind this path to wellness. Moreover, for those just curious to find out what it is like, the depths of Khewra Salt Mine is the perfect place to begin, which is why the salt mine has become one-of-a-kind destination for speleotherapy.
Speleotherapy started long ago with the realization that miners in salt environments did not suffer from respiratory diseases. From this observation, the idea of an underground spa replicating the environment in which the miners worked in was born. A doctor had also noticed that patients hiding in salt caves to escape during WWII had substantial improvements in respiratory health, which marked the modern adoption of this healing method. Speleotherapy is currently associated with many East European countries. This form of therapy is, however, beginning to grow in popularity in the Western world, which is what makes speleotherapy in Pakistan’s Khewra Salt Mine a top attraction for visitors to the mine.
The Pakistani government built a facility offering speleotherapy treatment in Khewra about a decade ago. The facility uses salt therapy to treat asthma, one of the many benefits attributed to speleotherapy. The speleotherapy facility is in the form of a clinical ward, which has a 20-bed capacity. In this ward, asthma and other kinds of obtrusive breathing problems are treated using salt therapy. As a matter of fact, advocates of this unique holistic therapy claim that speleotherapy can cure over a dozen diseases, including common problems such as eczema, chronic pneumonia, and bronchitis.
The controlled environment that the speleotherapy facility in the Khewra provides has low amounts of bacteria and is free from other allergens usually associated with breathing problems. Due to the humidity and moisture, there is usually a lot of salt ions suspended in the air, which is obviously breathed in by the occupants. The salt travels through the respiratory system while killing bacteria, getting rid of allergens and facilitating the removal of the mucus that often causes breathing obstructions.
People can also go to speleotherapy treatment facilities even though they do not have breathing problems. Exposure to an underground salty environment has been shown to increase breathing endurance, something athletes and any other person for that matter could significantly benefit from. In the speleotherapy center within the Khewra Salt Mine, patients can stay for prolonged periods of time since food and other conveniences are provided to keep them from interrupting their treatment in order to get to the surface for basic necessities.
The popularity of this form of therapy as well as the fame that surrounds Himalayan salt has also inspired a unique product – the Himalayan salt lamp. Essentially, a Himalayan salt lamp is a large piece of carving made using Himalayan salt, but with a small bulb inside. Some even feature decorative designs that people use as design pieces, thanks to their steady and fascinating glow.
However, the Himalayan salt lamps are mostly used to replicate the benefits of speleotherapy within a home environment. The salt lamps produce the same salt ions found within the depths of the Khewra Salt Mine. Therefore, the lamp is able, albeit on a limited scale, to provide health benefits such as cleaner air and clearing of respiratory passages. For people suffering from breathing problems, these benefits are quite important, although anyone living in such an environment stands to benefit from cleaner air. The Himalayan salt lamps generally weigh two kilos or so, although some can he as heavy as 40 kilograms. The designs are also quite varied since they are hand-carved in addition to spotting varied shapes and sizes.
How The Khewra Salt Mine Boosts The Local Economy Through Tourism
About a quarter of a million visitors tour the Khewra Salt Mine every year. Obviously, this translates into considerable revenues for the Pakistani economy, a significant amount of which directly benefits the local economy. The role of the mine as a tourist attraction has been so important that the Pakistani government recently refurbished Khewra railway station and began operating trains dedicated to visitors to the mines from Lahore and Rawalpindi. In fact, the mine does not close on any day of the week, not even during public holidays. Tourists are allowed to visit the mine between 9 in the morning and 6 in the evening. Entry into the mine is through a train.
There is a lot a tourist can see once inside the salt mine. To begin with, there are several pools of salty water inside the mine, which are a site to behold. The mine even has a mosque inside, built around half a century ago, which is obviously a must-see for all visitors to Khewra. The mosque, called Badshahi Mosque, is built in the mining tunnels using fascinating multi-colored salt bricks that make for an unforgettable visual experience. The salt mine also includes other worthwhile physical attractions, including an artistic replica of Mina-e-Pakistan, an Allama Iqbal statue, and the name of Muhammad in Urdu that formed naturally through crystallization. Within the mine is also a model of the Great Wall of China as well as a model of Mall Road of Murree. Guests also get to see Assembly Hall, which is 75 meters high. The tourists also experience experience Pul-Saraat, a salt bridge that has no pillars while below it is a brine pond 80 feet deep. Khewra is also very popular for its pink salt, best represented by Sheesh Mahal, which means place of mirrors, and consists of pink salt crystals. There is also a cafe within the salt mine.
Of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Khewra mine, a good number of them are foreigners, each of which pays US$6 to enter the mine, although students, both local and foreign, get a 50% discount. Pakistanis pay Rs. 30 as entry fees to the mine. Once inside, visitors also spend money in other ways. For instance, to get around while seeing the vast expanses of this fascinating mine, a trolley is necessary, which charges Rs. 20 for individuals and Rs. 250 for a group of 12 people.
Visitors to the mine also often choose to stay at Khewra Salt Mine Tourist Resort during their visit. The resort caters to both VIP guests and regular guests. However, as a VIP, one has to part with Rs. 500 a night. Side rooms go for Rs. 300 a night, but guests can pay an extra Rs. 100 a night to have air conditioning. Tourists can also remember their visit to the mine by buying decorative carvings made from the rock salt. The carvings include statues, lamps, vases, and ashtrays. Actually, these items are even exported to other countries, for instance, the US, Europe, and India. The salt is akin to gypsum in physical characteristics, which is what makes it great for this kind of work.
The government has also invested considerably in the construction of facilities and attractions associated with the mine in order to improve on the economic benefits tourists to Khewra salt mine bring to the region and the country in general. Obviously, the investments act as an additional boost to the local economy. For instance, a ward for treating asthma using salt therapy was established at a cost of 10 million rupees in the year 2007. Clearly, the creation of such facilities and other constructions in order to cater to the tourists also creates jobs for the local residents, which also represents a direct benefit to the local economy.
Considering the large number of visitors flocking this popular mine, the large amounts of money spent by guests on entry fees, payments for trolley rides, accommodation, buying special salt carvings, speleotherapy, and so forth is clearly a huge boost to the local economy. Although the salt mining aspect of the Khewra mine is a major contributor to the local economy, the tourism aspect definitely contributes to the local economy in a way that warrants special attention.
The significance of The Khewra Salt Mine cannot be overstated. After its accidental discovery over two millennia ago during Alexander the Great’s Indian campaign, the mine immediately became a major interest for all subsequent political leaderships in the region. The mine as it is known today, however, can largely be attributed to the British, who developed roads, improved mining processes, and made the tunnels within the mine more usable.
Over time, the mine has garnered popularity in other spheres as well. For instance, adherents of holistic healing techniques such as speleotherapy hold the therapeutic benefits of the salt in this particular mine in special regard. The Pakistani government has actually built a center where people can be treated for respiratory problems such as asthma within the mine using speleotherapy. Himalayan salt lamps, made from salt obtained from Khewra Salt Mine and considered to offer the same health benefits, are also quite popular the world over. Finally, thanks to about half a million tourists to the mine every year, the local economy reaps substantial direct and indirect economic benefits from the money the tourists spend while touring the world-famous salt mine.