Dharavi Slums – A Day of Sightseeing

After getting settled it was time for our first real day of sightseeing in Mumbai. We arrived at CST station after our first adventurous ride on the local train and headed towards the Gateway of India. It was erected in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary and was built in the Mumbai harbour. It was an impressive sight.

With our luck we happened to arrive on Army Day 2014. With that that brought a myriad of tourists, military displays and blocked off sections of the harbour. The most memorable being a group of young cadets marching around a pole and then performing acrobatics around/on it while beating drums went off in the background.

We had a quick glimpse of the Taj Hotel which was made somewhat famous after the terrorist attacks of 2008.

We grabbed lunch quickly at a nearby Cafè Mondegar where I had my first taste of an Indian restaurant style butter chicken. It was good but much different than the butter chicken you find in Calgary.

Me standing by the Gateway

Our main purpose of the day was to check out the Dharavi Slums which were iconified with the making of the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. We booked a walking tour through a company called Reality Tours which costed us about 750 rupees or about 13.40 CAD which I highly recommend.  Photos were not allowed on the tour but we were able to take a couple of shots at the entryway.

Edge of Dharavi

The tour was quite informative and the guides provided a ton of information. The most surprising was that the slum was not that “slummy” and the community was quite well organized. Some of the main points I remember were:

  • There about about 1 million people living here or about 2000 per acre.
  • Dharavi has both a commercial and residential side.
  • It has a gross economy of about USD$650 million mainly exporting goods such as leather, pottery, baked goods and recycled plastics. The leather produced here is sold to big companies like Armani and Gucci.
  • Residents only make about USD$2000 annually.
  • The slum is now semi-legalized and residents must be paid out if forced out and water and electricity are now in it’s infrastructure.

As bustling and lively the community was, the working conditions here were quite poor. Workers were exposed to toxic fumes from plastics, metal and other chemicals. Often these worker have no other choice but to work. They are given medication but no subsidies for their injuries.

Perhaps the most interactive part of the tour was when they guided you through the residential section of the slums. Narrow corridors, uneven pathways and the only light coming from the cracks between the buildings made everyone a little somber. Children in a field were playing openly with garbage. It was a little hard to digest.

They took us through one of the modest homes costing about 2000-3000 rupees a month to rent. 35-53 CAD a month.

Finally they showed us what Reality Tours was doing to give back to the community. They had setup a school funded by the proceeds of the tour company to help educate the youth here.

Entry into Dharavi

On our tour was a Swiss radio journalist on vacation. He had brought a microphone and was interview people on our tour about what they thought and why they decided to come. He’d energetically hop between buildings asking local questions and taking secret photos. I thought his antics were quite amusing.

Kiran with his Hindi, was able to make fast friends with our tour guide Denish. After the tour we crammed 5 of us into a cab and headed to the station in probably he scariest car ride I’ve ever gone on. The driver would speed away, narrowly missing hitting a truck speeding the opposite way.

We sat on the train and chatted with Denish and another guide as they explained why they were jokingly making fun of another passenger.

The other tour guide was going to Marine Drive and accompanied us. As we walked he told us he was going to the beach to meet up with his wife for a few hours. He had a secret love marriage and was only able to sneak away and see her from time to time, both their fathers were even kind of enemies. WHAT?! That is something straight out of a Bollywood movie!

We parted ways and arrived at Marine Drive. It’s a long stretch of coast way that runs along the bay and affords some descent views. It was littered with young couples sitting side by side affectionately, we even caught a few couples stealing kisses. PDA is not looked upon well here. I guess with the population of Mumbai young couples have a hard time finding privacy. Something you rarely see in North America.

At the end Marine Drive you will find Chowpatty Beach. Here foreigners and locals commonly congregate and enjoy the evening. Many kite flyers can be seen as well. There is also a large number of street cart food vendors here. Kiran and I decided to grab some grub.

Common sitting areas similar to the carts in SE Asia.

Kiran about to chow down

Here is a Mumbai speciality called Pav Bhija. It’s a spicy mash of potatoes, tomatoes, peas, onions served with buttered pav (bread). It tasted like a spicy spaghetti sauce and perfect after a long day.

Doesn’t the bread look tantalizing :p

This dish I don’t remember and I’ll have to ask Kiran about again but it was a chickpea dish cooked in a thick sauce, served with chutney. Also very good.

The whole meal cost about 260 rupees or 4.60 CAD for both of us.

We headed for the beach after and took in the view.

Chowpatty by night.

Kiran had a chai tea served by a vendor and we chatted a bit before hopping on a train and heading back home after a long day of sightseeing.

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