Dazzling white and sparkling in the sun; salt deserts, salt pans and salt fields are eerily beautiful places. India is the world’s third largest producer of salt, churning out around 27 million tonnes of the mineral every year and as we journeyed through the country we felt drawn towards these strange, briny landscapes and the life that inhabits and surrounds them.
Rajasthan is perhaps most synonymous with sandy deserts and grand forts, but it’s also a salt production hub. The salt is harvested manually from salterns, shallow pools with raised borders, to which water is added and evaporated to form salt crystals.
The salterns are a patchwork of colours and textures, from pure white crystals to dusty rose slush to inky green swirls caused by the dye added to the pans. Mounds of snow-like salt dot the area to form an abstract landscape.
The workers we meet shovel spade after spade of white gold, stopping only once in a while to gulp down some liquid refreshment from a bucket of well water.
Lunch time means a rest in the cool of their small hut. Respite from the burning heat. It’s a simple affair of vegetable curry and chapatis. Meagre rations for such heavy labour.
When the seasonal rains come the work stops. The salterns and salt deserts flood and no salt can be collected. In Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, the salt landscape looks grey and dead. During rainy season there are no workers here, just children flying kites, goats grazing and rubbish, an alarming amount of rubbish. The eerie beauty of the pans has been washed away with the rains.