According to legend, after a battle with Raja Poro, Alexander the Great's was resting in a region now known as Khewra. While resting, Alexander's army noticed that horses were licking the rocks. Alexander's army was the first to extract from Khewra Salt Mine. Little did they know that they have discovered the second largest salt mine in the world second only to Wielicza Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland.
More than a millenium and a half later after it discovery, in the 13th century, chiefs of Janjua-Raja tribe established commercial mining in Khewra. From 1500s to 1809, Mughals maintained control over the mine. Sikhs wrestled the control from a decaying Mughal empire in 1809. Punjab was annexed by the British Empire in 1849 and the administration of the mines were taken over by the British Government.
Under the British administration, the mines were modernized with electricity, tunnels, rail link, dynamite and a soda ash plant. A drinkable water spring was discovered in 1853 inside the mine. Wooden waterworks were built to supply this fresh water to the nearby village of Khewra. In 1872, Dr H. Warth, the chief mining engineer, at Khewra designed the main tunnel at ground level and established a 50-50 pillar rule of salt extraction, still followed to this day. A meter-gauge railway linking Khewra to Chalisa was opened in 1883. By 1886, Khewra was linked to Royal Indian Railways. Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Soda Ash plant was established in Khewra in 1938.
The poor working conditions and mistreatment by the British administration gave birth to a a resistance movement and strikes which forced the mine administration to call in the soldiers. Twelve miners were shot dead by the soldiers. Their graves are can be seen outside the middle gates of the mines. West Pakistan Salt Miners Labor Union is active in the area today.
In 1947, the control of the mine was handed over to Pakistani authorities. In 1974, Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) was established. In 2002, PMDC launched a Khewra Salt Mines Resort Development Project and successfully converted the oldest portions of the mine into a highly successful tourist destination welcoming around 200,000 visitors each year.
Today the salt mined in Khewra is primarly used for industrial purposes. Most of the 350,000 tons of salt extracted each year is purchased by ICI Soda Ash Khewra, Ittehad Chemical Limited at Kala Shah Kaku and various tanneries. The purest quality salt, called rock salt, is sold as table salt in the country exported. The amount used to produce salt lamps, vases, chess boards, etc. is on the rise.
In addition to tourism development, PMDC also established an Asthma Resort for speleotherapy and halotherapy. It costs only Rs. 5000 for a treatment.
Geologist believe that the rock salt in Khewra is from the Precambrian period i.e. around 600 million years old. These mines contain an estimated 220 million tonnes of salt. The area containing the salt is about 110 sq km.
Since 1870, miners have created 19 floors with tunneling with the total length of the tunnels more than 40 kilometers.
When visiting the mine, the tourist is taken to a recreation area through the original tunnel built by Dr. H. Warth. It is a long walk and tourists can also ride a train to avoid the long walk. After the long walk, you would be delighted to see several natural and man-made marvels.
Salt is transparent, white, pink, and reddish. The tourist resort displays clever use of salt and light to produce breathtaking scenery.
You can buy refreshments, dine, and buy souvenirs inside and outside the mine. Tourist guides are also readily available.
The fastest way to reach Khewra mines is via motorway M2 which links Lahore and Islamabad. The mines are located 30km east of Lilla interchange towards Pind Dadan Khan. Road signs are quite visible. Alternately, you can use the N5 highway for a slower but more scenic route. You can get there by train but it is highly inconvenient to get there by train.
The mine is open for tourist from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day including Sunday and gazetted holidays.