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The white hill was an anomaly among the forest covered mountains we had seen. The grasses and plants were going brown with the coming autumn but nothing grew on the whiteness of the salt. We drove to a small one room house nestled against this white mountain. Despite the coolish day the sun was blinding as it reflected off the whiteness. Our guide unlocked the door of the house nestled up again the white hill and the three of us filed in. The interior was basic with white walls and gold trim with all sorts of posters touting the benefits of salt. The air was deliciously cool.
Our guide unlocked the only other door and opened it to reveal a hallway stretching deep into the mountain. The ceiling was lined with chandeliers and the floor wood. It was like magic. A world contained in this tiny shack.
We walked and walked passing small empty rooms where water had leeched in creating beautiful salt stalactites. We walked further where our guide pointed out a mosque. It was very simple with only a carpet on the floor aligned with Mecca.
The rooms came quicker now. A pool hall with pool table. Next a simple disco and bar. Hallways started sprouting leaving us in a maze. We headed right to a large communal room with a flat screen tv and a ping pong table. Picnic tables provided basic sitting space.
Next was a multitude of hotel rooms. Some with double beds others with only single. Plastic ivy lined the walls in places. Apparently there were enough beds to sleep 120 people. During Soviet times it must have been busy but now it didn’t have a single guest.
Despite the new furnishings nothing seemed ready to receive guests. The theatre was a jumble of plush couches not all facing the screen and none of the beds were made. The rooms were so basic there weren’t even bed side tables. The only “art” was the patterns the machine they had used to carve out the rooms had left.
Our guide was in a hurry so we raced through everything barely able to take pictures. After the underground lake she led us out. Nowhere did we see any plumbing for toilets or showers. We even asked and were told there were none. Maybe the salt not only cures respiratory alignments but stops your need to use the toilet?
The sanitarium recommends 16 days underground to cure or improve respiratory ailments. If you go bring a good book, some food and a catheter.
Not quite satisfied with the speed of the tour we milled around outside in the blinding light. A tiny mining train with a squat engine and three dump cars lay on tracks not far beyond the little house. I had half a mind to ask the miners standing around outside if we could have a train ride deep into the mine. Sitting in the little dump carts would have been cold and comfortable but thrilling. Instead I motioned that I would like to look in the tunnel and was greeted with a yes.
I headed in and not only did my companions follow, but a miner decided to guide us. I walked with a stoop wishing for the safety of a helmet. No chandeliers here, just poorly spaced naked light bulbs and enough height to barely fit the train. It is hard to say how far we went as it is difficult to gauge distance when you are walking while almost bent over double. The wooden support beams looked very hard and potentially painful.
With the guide now in the lead we headed deep into the mountain on a worn salt path. A maze of passages went left and right and after what seemed like an eternity he scrambled up a small embankment into a massive cavern. Here a primitive metal claw on a steel cable was dragged over the bottom to pull salt into the waiting train below. Salt was presumably blasted loose allowing the claw to do its work. In time the claw had dug this hole at least 60 m deep. We scrambled up the salt scree slope at the edge to get a feel for the caverns size.
The light below felt quite distant while the ceiling felt no closer when we finally reached a vertical salt wall. To the side was another massive cavern which had been presumably mined the same way.
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