GUEST ARTICLE: Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is the 2nd most populous city in the world with a staggering population of about 14 million. We had just been on a little tour of the Golden Triangle and Mumbai was our last stop in India. We couldn’t have picked a better place to end our trip.
After picking up our luggage we went outside to get ourselves a taxi. We weren’t surprised when we were immediately approached by some guy who acted like he was a taxi driver, in reality it was just a scam to get a tip by carrying our luggage a mere 20ft to the cab. Don’t fall for it!
Our ride to our hotel was really interesting. The traffic we found to be just as congested as the other Indian cities we’d been to but it did seem to be somewhat cleaner. Millions of people ventured about in a plethora of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, alongside the sacred cows and wild roaming dogs.
We stayed at the Marriott in the Juhu District. It was an incredible hotel and by far one of the best we’ve ever stayed at. It was located right on beautiful Juhu Beach and was a short drive from the airport (if you’re only staying for a few days in Mumbai this is a good choice as the traffic is really heavy in the city). We had heard that a lot of famous Bollywood stars like to stay there, unfortunately we didn’t see any during our stay (would we have recognized them anyway?).
The juxtaposition of the luxury of the Marriott and the poverty on its doorstep was an eyeopener.
One of the main reasons we wanted to stay in Mumbai was to visit Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world with a population of 1 million people on a mere 1.7 km2. Mumbai is very expensive so slum living is a much cheaper option for those who can’t afford the rents. We booked a tour with a company we found on the Internet called Reality Tours and Travel.
The next morning our tour guide Ramesh picked us up at our hotel. We were told to wear cool comfortable clothing and runners. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures once inside the slum in respect for the residents and we happily agreed to that. It took us about an hour to drive through the city to get to Dharavi, once there we entered a totally different world.
We didn’t really know what to expect but we were soon put at ease by the welcoming smiles and headwags and interesting conversations with the locals. Ramesh took us to see their very impressive recycling, textile and pottery industries that have an annual turnover of about 665 million a year! The next time you buy Samsonite Luggage just think it ‘might’ have come from Dharavi! The same goes for some of those fancy big name brand leather wallets ~ who knew?!
After exploring the industrial area of Dharavi we wound through a network of some very narrow alleyways where the locals live. The concrete apartments were all extremely small. It was hard to believe how many people could actually live in each one.
Unfortunately the sanitation system isn’t the best and poses as a huge problem for the inhabitants resulting in severe public health issues. The heat was also really intense and the air stifling.
We saw all types of businesses within Dharavi like schools, pharmacies, bakeries, doctor’s offices and they even had ATM machines! The people we met were all very welcoming and seemed generally happy. It felt like they had formed a nice close-knit community. We were really glad that we were able to go on this journey and explore yet another part of India.
Some say that the tours of Dharavi exploit the residents and that the customers are simply voyeurs. However, the tour company aims to show a side of Dharavi that most people (even the other residents of Mumbai) wouldn’t know about – Dharavi is actually a vibrant and productive community and an important part of the economy in Mumbai.
After Dharavi the tour continued onto one of the biggest outdoor laundry facilities called Dhobi Ghat. “Dhobi” means laundry man and “Ghat” meaning the small concrete washing stalls. The sight before us was incredible! A massive area covered in Dhobis washing and flogging clothes in concrete vats and others hanging clothes on a network of clothing lines. Ramesh said not to be surprised if some of the big named Hotels sent their laundry there.
Our stay in Mumbai was fairly short but we saw so much in that small amount of time. There are many other areas to explore but you really would need weeks or even months to get the feel of it all. India is pretty incredible and should definitely be explored it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
This travel diary has been written by Rob Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!