Tracing Gems Of Hope

By M. Musa Yawari

Summayar is a small village situated in Nagar valley and Chumar Bakor’s mines come under this territory. Thus, it is owned by the villagers of Summayar. At an elevation of around 14000 feet, it has been functional for the past four decades.

Mining is a lucrative business throughout the world. But this profit is not distributed among the deserving ones. Beside mining lies the sufferings, deaths, debts, hopes, and exploitation of mineworkers in certain parts of the world. Pakistan is a country where different mines can be found including different minerals, materials, and gemstones. We live in a country where taking safety measures is the least priority among most of the mineworkers in different regions. There are mines where geopolitics also plays an important role around these mines. Security issues in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa always impact the miners in different ways. Weather and height play an important role in the extraction and well-being of mineworkers in Gilgit Baltistan. Changing political scenarios also have played a significant role in the downfall of the gemstone business in Pakistan. After the 9/11 incident, many mineworkers stopped working because less tourism and the situation in Pakistan did not allow them to continue this job and support their families.

The idea behind this project is to trace and delve into the factors involved in different sectors of the mining industry in Pakistan. To find the answer to the questions like, how much the mineworkers benefit from this industry, who is behind the functionality of these mines, what risks are involved in extracting these materials without taking precautionary measures, how politics and changing global scenarios impact mines in Pakistan and investigate about the issues faced by different factions involved in this business.


The extraction of usable materials from the earth is known as mining. Gold, coal, iron ore, and gemstones are a few examples of useful materials. Underground, surface, placer, and in-situ mining are the four primary categories of mining practised worldwide.

Underground mining is expensive and is used for deeper deposits. Surface mining is normally for shallow and cheaper deposits. Placer mining is for rivers and sand beaches. Minerals like uranium and copper are removed via the in-situ mining or solution mining procedure, which involves drilling boreholes into the deposit surface.

According to a report published on ‘Statista’ website Chine, Australia and USA are the top three countries respectively. China’s production value is around 183 billion USD, while Australia and USA have 142 billion and 91 billion USD respectively.

Mining in Pakistan:

Mining is an important industry in Pakistan, but the production is far less than the above-mentioned countries. Pakistan has deposits of minerals like coal, copper, gold, chromite, gemstones, mineral salt, and several other minerals extracted. Coal is one of the most extracted materials in Pakistan. Coal mines can be found in almost every province of Pakistan. An article published in “Mining Weekly” states that Reko Diq is one of the largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits in the world. It is a planned mining operation site in Chaghi district in Baluchistan. Gemstone mining is also a huge business in certain regions of Pakistan.

Tracing gems of Hope:

Gemstones are one of the materials extracted from different regions of Pakistan. Different mines of precious and semi-precious can be found in different regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit Baltistan and Baluchistan. The prices of these gemstones range from thousands to millions of rupees. Despite all the income made from the mining industry one of the worst safety measures can be found practised by these miners. Be it self-precautionary measures taken by the miners or measures needed to be taken inside the mine, it is barely practised by the miners. Financially, these miners do make a profit depending on the amount of the extracted materials out of the mines, but they are not the ones profiting the most. Usually, they are handled by the people who own the mines, and these miners are on daily wages. Or they are tricked by the middlemen who exploit these miners. However, there are also mines where all the miners are shareholders in the mines. They collectively work and share profit towards the end of every season. Chumar Bakor is one of those mines situated in Nagar district, Gilgit Baltistan.

Summayar is a small village situated in Nagar valley and Chumar Bakor’s mines come under this territory. Thus, it is owned by the villagers of Summayar. At an elevation of around 14000 feet, it has been functional for the past four decades.

Gemstones like Aquamarine, Fluorite, Apatite, Topaz, and Quartz are the minerals found in the mines of Chumar Bakor. Mining activities only take place from mid-July to mid-October in this region. During these three months, the mineworkers keep working in the hope to find traces of gems.

Tracing gems of hope is only one of the chapters about the mining industry in Pakistan. Further chapters will explore different gemstone mining sites in Gilgit Baltistan, Coal mines in different regions of Pakistan and tracing gold mines in Pakistan.

Tracing gems of Hope

It has been a decade now. Wajahat, abandoned by his fellow miners and with the winter bite ever sore, just didn’t know if he had the will to come back here next year. A decade of endless chiselling, mining, and blasting through these stones had brought him nothing but an ever-ballooning debt. It seemed that this mountain was just an endless worthless rock. This expedition was a failure, after all, he found himself thinking as he made his way out of the mine. The last time this year; maybe the last time ever.

He went back to his hut, had his dinner alone, and drowned himself in an avalanche of quilts to go to sleep. It didn’t come. The next morning, he woke up before sunrise, packed up his belongings and started his journey home. Another year of disappointment, how will we cope? As he neared the bend that will lead him out of this world of stone, he looked back one last time. The sun had just started to peek over the valley, its golden glow illuminating a world that not many will call home. Strangely, Wajahat did. The small miner settlement nestled in the slopes of these mighty peaks was bathed by soft beams of sunlight. Wrapped by its golden hues, the makeshift huts constructed with colourful rocks standstill peacefully when the miners go to work. Twinkling, beaming and calling treasure hunters to come to explore. Wajahat knew then that he had to come back the next year.

Having so many doubts, the following year, Wajahat hikes the same mountain. Instead of his squad from a decade ago, he was joined by his newly formed group of close family friends this time. He hoped to make one more attempt at his luck. And this year ten-year wait and laborious work begin to pay off. The mine once seemed barren now brought forward mounds of precious stones.  

Within a year, he earned more than he did in the last decade.

This is only one of the many tales I learned while dealing with the Chumar Bakor mineworkers. It is a mountain peak, owned by the locals residing nearby, in the Summayar valley of Nagar district, Gilgit Baltistan. Every year, around 700-800miners try their luck in Chumar Bakor which was first discovered by a villager around four decades ago. There are unlimited numbers of successful and failed attempts on this mountain peak. And everyone on this mountain has a story to tell. Apart from hard work, making Chumar Bakor their residence for three months without family members, harsh weather, and poor-quality life with even no proper washrooms, there is one thing common among the miners. Hope.

There are interesting things in Chumar Bakor that most of the humans living in cities only wish for. Not doing any job or working hard, partying hard. Yes, these miners give their blood and sweat for three months from summer to autumn. But do nothing the rest of the year except enjoy life. That’s what most of the miners replied when I asked. Another fascinating thing in Chumar Bakor is life with no distractions. Distraction from the gimmicks of the world and technology. There is no internet connectivity and the least possible mobile signals. Now, this is the interesting part. We all have seen phone booths in cities in the recent past. There are mobile booths in different areas of Chumar Bakor with no phones attached. These are the spots where mobile receives very weak signals. To make a phone call one needs to put the mobile on top of the stacked-up rocks and talk while it is on speaker. Because if you move the phone an inch, the call will drop. Thus, only important phone calls are made when miners call their families. Otherwise, no distractions.

Nasir Hussain’s brother was also a miner. He was still young and not working when his brother and another miner died because of an avalanche. They found the dead bodies the following year in summer, he told me. Nasir works in a mine which has been functional for the past 17 years. Six more people work with him. Their job is to blast inside the mine, take out the debris, and look for traces of semi-precious stones. Otherwise, repeat the same thing multiple times a day depending on the depth of the mine. Chumar Bakor has a population of around 800 people, 110 groups, and 7 members each. Every team has extra 6 shareholders helping who provide logistical support to the miners in the form of food, fuel for generators, gunpowder, and other necessary items. Income generated every year is split among 13 shareholders.

Every team has only one room on this mighty peak constructed with rocks and a ceiling covered with heavy clothes and plastic. The whole team sleeps in the same room wakes up every day, uses the few available washrooms constructed outside, leaves for work after breakfast and keeps repeating the same thing for almost three months in the hope to trace the precious gems to spend the winter peacefully. The mountain remains snow-capped for 8-9 months every year.  Also, every mine is filled with frozen rainwater. Nasir told me it takes them at least a month to take water out of their 500feet deep mine when they come back every year.

Hamid works with a group of young miners. They recently started mining in this area. He told me all the miners know each other. We are all either family or friends working over here because we all are from Summayar, he told me. At Chumar Bakor only people from Summayar can work as this is our territory, he further explained. I think more about my future and traces of precious stones than to worry about any accident during the blast, he told me while getting ready for his first blast of the day. He also mentioned about few accidents inside different mines before going inside the mine.

Apart from mining, there are different interesting activities every day. The sale and purchase of small pieces of Aquamarine, Fluorite, Apatite, and Quartz are one of the favourite activities of the miners. Also, they have different corners of the mountains designated to rest and enjoy the vast landscape in front of them. Muhammad Hussain was the first person to come up with his idea to provide a cutting facility to the miners who have large pieces of precious stone. He helps them with their different requirements. He told me he, sometimes, wears masks otherwise it was a normal routine for him. While mentioning about his posture and working for the whole day, he told me he has knee problems. Muhammad then left for the ration just arrived on the mules. This is another form of business which provides opportunities for those who deliver food on the elevation of 14000 feet and earn a good amount of money.

As the winter approaches and before the first snow on Chumar Bakor these scavengers return to their village with whatever they have mined. Among them includes those who earn in millions and those who came back with nothing but hope to earn the same or more next year.

There are certain rules charted out by a locally established organisation that controls the smooth sale and purchase of the gems. The miners only auction and sell their raw gemstones to this organisation. Only the people of Summayar village are allowed to be in the first auction. No outsiders are allowed. This organisation further auctions it to outside buyers.

Zawar Iqbal is among the few leaders of the organisation called Khair ul Amal. He spent his early life as a miner. Now, he has multiple shares in Chumar Bakor mines in different capacities. Stones carved out of Chumar Bakor are mostly used as showpieces or museum pieces. The residues or the leftover pieces are processed and used as jewellery items, Zawar explained to me. He was having a solo inside his office with a buyer from Peshawar. The gemstones in the auction were in millions. Zawar told me there were pieces he had bought and sold worth millions of rupees. But there are times when we wait for long period waiting for the right buyer, he said. Sometimes it takes years. Occasionally, mineworkers lose millions of rupees because they are not able to handle the gemstone pieces and they were broken or cracked. Zawar said once we lost 10million rupees because of the crack in a gemstone. Noticing the shock on my face he took a deep breath and thoughtfully said, dealing in stones has made us stone hearted. It’s part of our business.

Follow Us on Social Media

Scroll to Top