We had an amazing day touring some of Mumbai’s most controversial areas. Beginning in Kamathipura (Mumbai’s red light district) and ending in the infamous Dharavi Slums. It’s been an eye-opener!
Sensibly we decided to bump the hotel breakfast and instead munched on some pineapple and another mystery fruit we bought from a vendor on the street.
We were picked up by our guide at 8.30am and were driven through Mumbai. He was really friendly and so patient in answering our plethora of questions. He pointed out and explained as much as he could about numerous sights we passed along our way, including Marine Drive, Chowpatty beach, Malabar Hill (where the Bollywood stars and politicians live – most expensive real estate in the world) and a shelter for homeless boys which was strangely located under a railway bridge. We drove through the main red light district in Mumbai where 8000 women work (an estimated 35% of which are under the age of 16). It was teaming with men walking up and down the street. Loads of brothels, women posing in doorways/windows, filthy advertising and disturbing sights. At the end of the street our guide showed us the “biggest brothel” – a police station where the hookers have to pay the police to have sex with them so they don’t go to jail. Free sex for coppers in Mumbai! Lovely!
Next stop was the dhobi ghats – Mumbai’s laundry and the biggest open air laundry in the world. It was an amazing sight. Whoever thought I would be so mesmerized by people washing clothes?! Apparently the workers have shifts running from 5am to as late as 10pm in which between them they wash over 300,000 pieces of clothing. They do this with only 3 hours of water supply a day (all of mumbai only gets 3 hours of fresh water a day, a fact we were blissfully unaware of due to our hotel having a massive water tank. We’ve been left feeling quite guilty about the number and length of showers we take).
Finally we arrived at Dharavi. Officially its home to 1 million people though our guide told us the real figure is closer to 2.5million. Its 1.7 square km in size (just a tiny bit cramped!) and is one of an estimated 20,000 slums in Mumbai. Our first stop (after walking in through a warren of alleys) was the factories. They recycle everything here. It’s quite amazing really and puts us to shame. Our guide took us onto the roof of a three story hutment from where saw the whole slum. The climb up was on the death defying side and at points we were quite concerned about the ladders and the tin roof holding up under our weight. Luckily they did, and the view we were rewarded with was strangely spectacular. On leaving the factory I saw and promptly fell in love with two tiny baby goats. They were adorable but my moment of joy was shattered on being informed they were to be sacrificed the following Sunday!
Next we took a walk through the residential area, through the warren of alleys again – very claustrophobic and absolutely roasting, we were both dripping in sweat by that point, a truly unattractive sight. The houses were tiny but everyone we saw seemed happy enough and very friendly. We passed lots of ladies washing clothes and wrestling soapy children in buckets. Cute babies were everywhere and lots of kids were out playing in the street. They seemed to enjoy following us for a bit, screaming hello at the top of their lungs and shaking our hands 100s of times. At one point our guide took a tiny baby with us then deposited it with a wee girl about 200 yards from where he collected it. Everyone seemed to be very honest and trusting of each other – maybe they have enough to worry about without fretting over western horrors like paedophiles and kidnappings? Who knows, but I did feel very safe in the middle of that slum.
Our last stop was a kindergarten which was built and is now funded by the profits made from the tour we took. We walked there via a huge rubbish dump, apparently following in the famous footsteps of Prince Charles and Bill Clinton. I’m sceptical!! Amongst the rubbish we sat and enjoyed our first ever glass of chai with some very old local men. When we finally reached it, the kindergarten itself was lovely, the kids were beautiful and so well behaved. It was very strange to learn something in a class for 3 year olds but we did: apparently the mysterious fruit we ate earlier were custard apples!!
Back to the hotel for a (notably shorter) shower then spent the remainder of the day wandering aimlessly, stopping for many juices and chatting incessantly about our trip to Dharavi. We had been worried that the whole experience could turn out to be harrowing and a bit voyeuristic and were delighted that this wasn’t the case. We both learned a lot!