Mining Pakistani Pink Rock Salt
The 300km long Kohistan-e-Namak mountain range in Northern Pakistan is home to one of the largest deposits of rock salt in the world. Six large mines, and countless smaller ones, cut away at the mountains interior mining the pink rock salt that forms the range. Unique to Pakistan, every year millions of tonnes of pink rock salt is mined here, some of it carved and exported to the west as an expensive and unique culinary experience.
Urban legend says that Alexander the Great in 326BC formed a large encampment in the area, after discovering the salt when his horses began to lick the rock. Thus was the birth of an ancient salt mining traditional in the area that still continues today.
In 1872 the British took over the mining rights in the region and the first British Chief Mining Engineer, Dr H Warth, made the Khewra salt mine his home and began to introduced new mining techniques used in Britain and the rest of the world at the time. The British continued to control the mines until Partition in 1947 when they were returned to Pakistani control.
Dr Warth also introduced a system that registered the local miners from the surrounding villages and gave them exclusive rights to work the mines thus guaranteeing a well-trained reliable workforce. These groups of miners formed Pakistan’s first ever trade union in 1929
Although today the mines are controlled by the Pakistan Mining Development Corporation the same miner families, having received their hereditary rights from their forefathers, continue to work inside the salt mines.
Whilst other salt mines across the world have become more mechanised many of Pakistan’s salt mines still use the same techniques employed in 1872. Work is still largely done by dynamite and by hand with some mines still using donkey’s to carry out the salt. It is the strength of the salt miners Unions and the hereditary registration rights that refuses to allow the mines to become mechanised for fear the miners will lose their jobs.
For 4 years myself and a Spanish photographer Mikel Landa have been documenting 26 (13 each) of the worlds most remote, unique and traditional salt making places. From Ethiopia to China, Bolivia to Denmark, Azerbaijan to Senegal. The work seen above is but one part of the project and will be published in September 2015 by the German publisher Mare.