Each morning in the foothills of the Himalayas, the pink salt miners set out for their dangerous mines high in the peaks of the world’s roof. Almost all of them are young boys, some as young as five, and often orphaned. They are clad in, at best, wooden sandals and a diaper-like linen garment called a dongma. You see them lining up in the backstreets or silhouetted on moraine ridges in long trains, shouldering heavy implements called dongma, led by men on horseback, or more recently, ATVs.
Some labor in the open pits with adzes, shaving off curls of the salmon-colored substance from its calcined substrate. Pink dust clogs their noses and throats, making breathing in the high altitude even more difficult. Respiratory failure is all too common.
Others hunt the elusive dongma, a pink salt so salty, and so pink, and so salty, that a single grain can flavor an entire side of beef in a French restaurant. Cave-ins are frequent and miners have been known to tunnel into such a collapse years later and uncover a long-dead miner. The pink salt desiccates them almost immediately and turns their skin a nearly neon pink.
As more and more Himalayan pink salt gets used to pack plastic surgery patients’ wounds to minimize “face slip,” it becomes harder and harder to find. Some mine owners have taken to submersing the orphan miners in high Himalayan tarns, called dongma, tying ingots of lead to their waists to submerse them. They have only a length of garden hose to breathe through as they vacuum the salt from the lake floor. When they emerge, if at all, they are usually cyanotic.
Some have maintained that Himalayan pink salt is a fiction. Of those, some say it is actually the evaporated residue of the bloody tears of mountain orphans. This is true only metaphorically. Others insist that Himalayan pink salt is nothing more than sand mixed with table salt then colored with a small amount of a local dye called dongma. There has been no recorded instance of such a substance being sold in a retail environment as Himalayan pink salt.
In the west, chefs and specialty stores have been known to pay up to $250.00 an ounce for the rarest pink salt. The middlemen pay the mine owners up to $800.00 per pound for it. But the child miners of the Himalayas earn an average of only 15 U.S. cents per day, all of which is quickly repossessed for such charges as rent on the unheated bunkhouses where many of the miners live and the tepid gruel they are fed.
We must join together to stop this picturesquely terrible practice.