Approximately 200 km from Islamabad and Lahore, at Khewra in Old Punjab the world's second largest mines produce approximately 350,000 tons of salt every year.
Salt from Khewra, also known as Himalayan salt, is red, pink, off-white or transparent. Himalayan salt contains a wide spectrum of minerals and trace elements, just as nature intended. It is an unrefined, unprocessed "raw" salt that is hand-mined from these abundant salt caves that were formed 250 million years ago when ocean salt settled in pockets around the earth. The Khewra mines are part of a mineral-rich mountain system about 288 meters above sea level and cut roughly 730 meters into the mountain. The underground mines cover a total area of 110 km2.
Alexander the Great disovered the salt reserves at Khewra when he crossed the Jhelum and Mianwali region during his Indian campaign. The horses of his army revealed this secret of the region when they were observed licking the stones. Salt, a valuable commodity, was traded in markets as far away as Central Asia. But on the downfall of the Mughal empire, the mine was taken by the Sikhs. Hari Singh Nalwa, the Sikh Commander-in-Chief, shared the management of the Salt Range with Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu. The former controlled the Warcha mine, while the latter held Khewra.
In 1872 the British had their turn controlling this area and developed the mine further, levelling the road, builing warehouses, providing a water supply, improving the entrance and tunnel access and introducing a better mechanism for the excavation of the salt. They also introduced penalties to deter the salt smugglers! In the early years of British rule the Khewra mines produced about 28,000 to 30,000 tons per annum. This increased to approximately 187,400 tons per annum in 1947 and dropped again to 136,824 tons in 1950.
Now under local management, the mine’s reported output in 2003 was 385,000 tons of salt. This is almost half of the total production of rock salt for the country. At this rateof excavation, mining is predicted to continue for another 350 years.
Salt from the Khewra mine is not only used for cooking, bathing, brining and as a raw material in industry, it is also used to make beautiful lamps, vases and statues which are exported around the world. This use of rock salt started during the Mughal era when many craftsman made tableware and decorations from it.