Last weekend, my husband and I travelled to Islamabad. My husband had a business meeting scheduled for 4 pm on Friday afternoon. After stopping at a petrol pump to refuel and check tire pressure, we started on the motorway at 10 am that morning.
In this round trip, we planned to visit the famous Khewra salt mines. These mines are known to be Pakistan's largest and the world's second largest salt mines. I had 'googled' the directions and distances, but I wasn't sure about the time that the return journey to the mines would cost us. The roads off the motorway are usually single roads with different traffic patterns. So we decided to undertake that venture on Sunday when we would have more time on our hands to spare.
As we crossed Bhera service area, it occurred to me that we could take a quick tour of the Kallar Kahar lake. My husband agreed. I had visited the lake area way back in my childhood, long before the motorway was laid. During my countless trips back and forth Islamabad-Lahore via the motorway, I had spotted the water body several times from the motorway with colourful accessories in its surroundings. Today I got the chance to visit it up close.
We turned the wheel towards Kallar Kahar. The toll person inquired about our proceedings. We told we were on our way from Lahore to Islamabad and wanted to stop briefly at Kallar Kahar. He noticed the e-tag and let us go. We followed the signboard that pointed towards "Kallar Kahar". There were shops along the road that we took. It suddenly struck me that we were going into the Kallar Kahar town and not towards the Kallar Kahar lake. My husband asked a few men sitting on a charpai about the lake's whereabouts and they guided us to move in the opposite direction and then take a right.
We soon found a signboard reading "TDCP Resort 2 km". We followed the winding path eventually reaching a set of tourist resorts with a huge common neat and clean parking lot. We offloaded ourselves and went to explore the lake. It was actually hard to find the lake! To our sheer amazement, the entire water body was concealed by dense green marshy material. The water was barely visible.
A long wooden dock led to an area where several brightly painted boats were parked. The dock neck had to its left and right humongous wild grass that way surpassed my decent height. This wild swampy grass reminded me of nothing but the gruesome alligators and crocodiles from the National Geographic videos that my husband keenly forces upon everyone to watch in the TV lounge. There were swings of various kinds in a small amusement park in the tourist resorts. Of course, they weren't open in that scorching heat of the afternoon sun. We spent a total of seven minutes in the region and then continued our journey towards Islamabad.
Then two days later, on our way back towards Lahore, we noticed a sign reading Salt Mines Resort 48 km for a route off the motorway just before we started ascending the salt range. A corresponding sign indicated Lilla to lie straight ahead on the motorway. I had earlier noticed that the Lilla / Pind Dadan Khan interchange was located between the salt range and Bhera interchange. We kept with our initial finding and waited for the Lilla turn.
After curving along the twists and turns of the magnificent salt range hills, we exited the motorway from the Lilla interchange. There was marked a 30 km ride towards Khewra. For half an hour, the road was straight on levelled ground with plain flat ground on either side. There was decent traffic on this single road comprising trucks, wagons, motorcycles and cars. There were camels and salt-like deposits off the road in the scant vegetation surroundings. Then we were directed by a road sign to take left towards the hills.
The last fifteen minutes were city drive through the Khewra town. We noticed donkeys of a different colour and kind as compared to the animal species we were familiar with from Lahore. We crossed a railway track that perhaps was laid by the British in the bygone development days. We also passed the PMDC resort to our right. At the end of the road was the entry to the salt mines.
To my surprise, the salt mines parking lot had some thirty vehicles parked across its entirety. We parked our motor vehicle and got entry tickets from an office towards the left. Then we made our way towards the mines on the right. A concrete bridge across the dry valley connected the two hills. We found a loaded blue and white electric train emerging from the mine. We didn't wait for it and started our way inside the mine. There were loads of families walking back. We went on and on. Finally, my husband asked a person how far deep inside we go? Around 8 km was the reply!
On and on we walked noticing the salty walls of the tunnel we were in. It was exciting and pleasantly cool though slightly claustrophobic inside the tunnel. Knowledge of recent earthquakes made it further uneasy. We appreciated that the rocky interior was carefully held in place by huge neatly assembled wood supports. On top of it, it was amazing to find lots of men, women and children there inside with us.
As we had reached the mines quite late (post 5 pm), we did not want to get stranded inside. So we walked till the end of the train track, explored the interior quickly, and hopped in the train to take us back. Though noisy, the train ride was fun and airy and full of life and action. So in this trip to Islamabad, we were successful in exploring two K's off the motorway!