Monday, October 4, 2010

Khewra Mines


The salt at Khewra reaches the surface; it was discovered as early as the days of Alexander the Great. According to a legend there was a battle between Alexander the Great and Raja Poro in this area. After Alexander had won the battle, the soldiers were resting. They soon mentioned that the horses were licking the ground in a certain area. Here the salt reached the surface and the ground contained more salt than in general, which the horses found out.

Long ago the locals started to mine the salt on the surface, in small opencast mines. In 1872 Dr. Warth, a renowned British mining engineer, built the first tunnel at ground level to access the salt layers. He introduced room and pillar mining which is used until today. At the moment salt is mined in 19 different levels, producing about 325,000 tons per year.


Khewra Salt Mines is a salt mine in Pakistan, about 160 kilometers from Islamabad and 260 kilometers from Lahore. It attracts up to 40,000 visitors per year and is the second biggest salt mine in the world. Situated at the foothills of the Salt Range, Khewra Salt Mines are the oldest in the salt mining history of the sub-continent.


Salt has been mined at Khewra since 320 BC, in an underground area of about 110 sq. km. Khewra salt mine has proven reserves of 300 million tons. This reserve could not be consumed in 600 years even at the rate of 5 lakh tons production every day. Current production from the mine is around 3 lakh tons.


The salt mined in Khewra - which is often called the biggest or second biggest salt mine in the world - is primarly used for industrial purposes. More than half of the production, 200,000 tons per year, is sold to Imperial Chemical Industries ICI Soda Ash Khewra. Other customers are Ittehad Chemical Limited at Kala Shah Kaku and various tanneries. A certain amount of salt of the purest quality, called rock salt, is sold as table salt in the country and abroad, especially to India. A small amount is used to produce fancy goods like salt lamps, vases, and ash trays. They are sold at the tourist mine, but also exported in large quantities. The Himalayan Rock Salt Crystal Lamps are somewhat notorious.

Khewra mine and the tourist mine are operated by the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC). It is operating four salt mines and four collieries, producing 13% of the countries coal and 52% of the salt. The underground salt mines are located at Khewra, Warcha and Kalabagh in Punjab, and there are salt quarries at Jatta and Bahadurkhel in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). It is operating and continually developing the tourist mine and establishing an Asthma Resort for speleotherapy, or better halotherapy. The newest improvements are a reception centre for tourists and a new walkway to the mine entrance.

The mine is visited on a very long tour. Visitors enter the mine on foot, and it takes 1,5km to reach the salt. The mine is entered through a long 5m high and 7m wide passage with rails on the floor. The rails are from a mine train, which is used to carry the salt, but there are also tours which enter the mine on an original mine train from 1930.


Inside the mine are various attractions. Fascinating is an enormous chamber called Assembly Hall, which is 75m high. Other chambers are filled with brine, water saturated with salt. It is lighted indirectly, which gives it impressive colours. An area with pink salt is called Shish Mahal. The mine-head buildings have 17 storeys, with 11 below ground. The salt-mine is 945 feet above sea level and extends around 2,400 feet inside the earth from the mine-mouth. There are 17 working levels and the cumulative length of all tunnels is more than 40 km.

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