The Child Salt Miners of the Himalayas

Salt from the mine the orphans call “The Tear Hammer”

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 keep them under. 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.


  1. Cynthia says:

    What exactly is “dongma”? You have it as the word for the garment the children wear, the implements they use, the elusive pink salt, the high Himalayan tarns, and the local dye. I Googled the word, but didn’t come up with any definitive answer.

  2. Ally says:

    I’m not saying this is inaccurate, because chances are it 100% isn’t and I would not be surprised should that be the case. But the article has me wary. There’s no sources, the word ‘dongma’ is used multiple times to refer to multiple very different things. A search of any of this comes out blank.

    Obviously if there’s even a chance of this being true, and chances are that somewhere along the line severely unethical practices are happening, you should just scrap the salt and go for an alternative. There’s not really a difference anyways. But I’m just…not finding this article to be a reliable source.

  3. Deb says:

    Curt Hopkins forgot to classify this piece of complete and total garbage as “FICTION”. I have read and re-read to isolate one tidbit of truth and frankly there is NONE.The mines ARE NOT in the “high peaks of the world’s roof”, young boys in diapers ARE NOT PRESENT, the salt is actually “less salty” in sensation due to its lesser content of sodium chloride, so chefs ARE NOT PAYING $250 an ounce, not even paying $2.50 PER POUND, plastic surgeons DO NOT use the salt to “PACK” patients, deaths are EXTREMELY RARE, and if someone were to die in a salt mine, their body would not “desiccate them almost immediately and turns their skin a nearly neon pink”. Curt, I would cheekily suggest you become a comedy writer, but unfortunately you need to learn HOW TO WRITE first. Total fantasy and not the least entertaining. Hit that pipe again my friend, but keep your hands away from the keyboard afterwards.

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