Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Khewra Salt Mines

So I got to visit the Khewra Salt Mines (the 2nd largest salt mines in the world), some days back and it was a refreshing experience. PMDC (Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation) deserves the credit for the improvements, making the place quite tourist friendly. (And, Yes! There were tourist, both local and foreigners, so in your face stereotype promoters!)

We owe the discovery of these salt mines to the sick horses of the 326 B.C battle between Alexander the Great and Raja Porous at the bank of river Jhelum, who licked the crop rocks and were cured. Following the horse steps, the humans then made their discovery and these mines got the title of ‘Museum of Geology’ as the rocks exposed here range from pre-Cambrain age to recent times. Before the British took over in 1849, the Janjua Rajas had the ownership here.

One starts to feel the stark difference between the temperatures, right outside the entrance of the mines. The pleasant cold air hits you, and is a big relief compared to the heat outside especially if you are there during this season.

To make things interesting for the visitors, the workers have named different spots inside the mine. If you want you can hire the electric tram that will take you to the ‘Chandni Chowk’, the main spot where different bifurcations of the mines are connected. However, the suggestion is that, if there are no other issues, you should walk there instead of taking the tram, it’s much more fun. You will spot some rare variety of rock salt added loaded with all that extra information that your guide will be happy to share. On your way to ‘Chandni Chowk’, if you are attentive enough, an opening in one of the sides will catch your eye and on a closer look, you will come across 103 constructed steps going up to the Asthma Clinic. Research has showed that, 8 hours in the mines per day for a specific number of days (depending on the patient’s condition), allergic asthma can be treated. For this a health resort has been established here.

The mine workers have built different monuments out of salt bricks and the effect of lights used is amazing. There is a post office, a mosque, a replica of Minar-e-Pakistan and an old canon used to shoot loose salt hangings is preserved in a base of salt bricks. Then there is Nathia Gali, named after one of our mountain resort town, as the salt there is pure white. The last spot in the mines is going to be a small corner where a tree’s root centuries old has been preserved between the mine walls as a fossil and it is the only such fossil there.

By the time you walk out of the mines, you would have had a long walk but there are going to be no signs of tiredness and as your guide will tell you with pride, ‘your respiratory system has been cleansed and you’ll feel the difference at least for a week, before the city’s pollution does the deed’.

Outside you are going to be greeted by goats of every size and color and they know how to play cute. Their presence is going to look odd at first, but then once they start nudging you in the hope of sharing your lunch (their way of demanding their share of tax) you’ll get used to them in no time. In case anyone is wondering, these goats are omnivores! And they like to pose for photographs too.      
Amongst the Salt mines lies a worn out Mazar of Syed Sheikh Salman and his wife. By the time the Mazar grabbed our attention it was time to hit the road, so all I could gather from the locals was that in yester years, a lion from the surrounding mountains would come down daily to pay his respects. A tree besides the twin graves was used by the devotees to tie ribbons and strips of cloths for the fulfillments of their Manats (wishes).   

The place holds a lot more history, geology and local lore than what I have mentioned (the entire trip inside the mines is going to last for 2 hours), but I won’t be going into the details here as my basic intention here is to share few of the photographs that I took. 

The surrounding rock mountains

Entrance to the mines, the tram track can be spotted
The electric tram on its way to Chandi Chowk
The guide showing the difference between rocks and salt
Cave walls
Black rock salt
Various salt forms hanging on the roof of the caves
103 stair steps leading to the Asthma Clinic
Salt bricked mosque used by the mine workers for their prayers
An old canon to shoot loose hanging salt
Salt crystal formation
Replica of Minar-e-Pakistan made from salt bricks
A pool of salt water
A cave tunnel, where work is in progress at the other end
Another Salt wall
An opening made for the ventilation purposes

Entrance to Nathia Gali
Salt in the Nathia Gali area
Surrounding walls of a salt pool
The other side of the same pool shown in the previous picture
Machinery used for mining work. This tunnel ends in a pool of salt water and the workers reach that spot from here

Roof of a section of the mines

Salt mount's reflection in the water

A section of the mines where, the workers beleive they can see the naturally carved picture of Allama Iqbal 

Three different shades of salt at generated from the same area
The tree fossil
Salt piles besides the path on the way out

The mountain view
The baby omnivore goat (One from the local clan)
Outside view of the Shrine of Syed Sheikh Salman

Shrine of Syed Sheikh Salman

A lamp made from salt
Decoration pieces made from salt bought as souvenirs 
Another variety of the salt lamps

An old construction outside the mines, once used as horse stable

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So Why Don't They Leave?

One of the reasons that no one really takes us seriously in the international community can be seen is the following video.

(Mr. Gillani was not even able to get the hint from the interviewer's expression that damage control was in order!)

The country is suffering from a plethora of problems and therefore, no one should be accepting an instant solution. Anyone who does is naïve and anyone who promises instant solutions is either delusional or a plain liar. Still at the micro level a lot of good things are happening and the potential of finding solutions at this level & then converting them to a macro level exists for those who actually want to do some good. When this starts happening, we will find ourselves on the right track.

In the meanwhile, I for one want that anyone representing my country, should & must be capable of representing it with dignity. Sadly this is not the case. Our “democratic representatives” out of all the people have time and again failed to live up to the expectations. (For those who might have made up their minds labeling me anti-democracy etc etc, no I am all for democracy, but limiting yourself to casting the ballot and declaring it the triumph of democracy is not my cup of tea!). A democratic representative should know why people are not leaving the country, despite all the signals are urging them to and given that ‘no one is stopping them’. Musharaff was once asked about the brain drain of Pakistan and his response was that as we can’t provide for them; let them go, they will return once things settle down. Things never settled down as no one was making much effort and those who leave, hardly ever return. So what’s the difference between the mindset of a dictator and that of an elected representative?

All Pakistan is left to cheer about is the talent of the desis’ who make a name once they are no longer carrying their green passport and their success is benefitting their adopted homelands. No one is blaming them for leaving, as a lot of them tried to the hilt for making it here but came across hurdles they couldn’t cross, because no one was interested in stopping them.

Still there are many who are staying and have no plans for leaving. These are the real heroes, the unsung heroes doing everything they can to make things right and to show the world that their country is more than the headlines that have come to define it. They come from all walks of life and are here to stay because they Pakistan is home and leaving your home for good is not easy at any level. Call them idiots, emotional, irrational or whatever you like but they do exist are here to stay.

So Mr. Prime Minister, a better option would be that instead of making a fool out of yourself in front of foreign journalists, just spare some time and get to know the lot of these idiots, emotional and irrational individuals so that you might figure out for a change that Pakistan is in a dire need of them.