Everybody have heard of Mumbai famous slums, more after watching the great movie “Slumdog Millionaire”. Before visiting them we had some idea of how they looked, but the reality was very different.
Slum tours are very common in Mumbai, but also described as unethical. We were curious to see them, also we don’t care about some wannabe mother Teresa of Calcutta judging us for visiting the slums. We booked with a tour company that uses the tour money to help pay for young kids education inside the slum, so it was a good cause after all.
Our guide, 21 years old Shenandra, have always lived inside the slum, but you can tell he is part of a richer family as he studied outside the slums and his English is perfect. He picked us up from our hotel and we walked to the main train station to take a local train that takes around 30 min to reach Dharavi.
The Dharavi slum, where 1 million people live is the 3rd largest in the world (largest is in Brazil, second largest in Pakistan, but once you go inside of those it will be hard to make it out alive). Dharavi is pretty safe (according to our guide) but still we wouldn’t dare to go even close to it without a good reviewed tour company to guide us.
Dharavi slum was founded in 1882 during the British colonial era. The slum grew in part because of an expulsion of factories and residents from the peninsular city centre by the colonial government, and from rural poor migrating into urban Mumbai (then called Bombay)
The slum is divided in commercial and residential areas, we first visited the commercial are where its full of small factories. Dharavi has an active informal economy in which numerous household enterprises employ many of the slum residents. It exports goods around the world. Leather, textiles and pottery products are among the goods made inside Dharavi by the slum residents. The total annual turnover has been estimated at over US$1 billion
They have a thriving recycling industry in here, from plastic to aluminum, according to our guide, Dharavi is the largest plastic recycler of the world. The small factories are inside little houses where a few workers live and work. They earn around 300 Rupees ($5) for a 12 hour work day, 7 days a week with a 1 month vacation at the end of the year. The factory owner has to provide them with free medicine, accommodation, food and clothes.
They make almost everything they need inside the slum, here is a pastries factory that actually exports their pastries to supermarkets all around India as well.
We then walked towards the residential area that is divided by a river, the government has made the promise to clean this river, but honestly this will never happen as the people here will continue to throw the trash here, so the solution will be only temporary.
The government recently started providing all utilities, they have electricity, water 2 times a day, cable, internet, etc… The normal rent is $50 a month for a normal size house here where minimum 4 people will be living.
Water lines are not underground, so you need to be careful while walking around here.
We visited the place where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, one scene. They started filming here but the government did not like the idea of a movie showing the reality of this place, so they banned any further filming inside the slums. The movie then was filmed in a fake slum set instead. Most of the kid actors of the movie where casted from this slum.
There is only one street where filming of documentaries is allowed, this street is wider, “cleaner” and with the better (richer) factories.
We also saw the market that looks exactly the same as any other market we have been in India, we saw the school area where you can find a private, government and a NGO funded schools. Basically everyone here has access to education, if they want to take on the offer.
Overall it was a good interesting experience to see the slums. We expected way worse, but actually everybody there has a job, running utilities, free schools, housing and everything they could need. Actually, there are rich families still living there that do not want to move out of the slums because they have their friends in there. If you look into the houses, they have TV’s, laptops, fully equipped kitchens, etc… Interestingly I thought we were going to leave the slums traumatized to see such poverty, but in my opinion extreme poverty does not include stable jobs, housing, utilities, TV’s, etc…. While walking around Delhi or Mumbai we saw way worse poverty and families with newborns sleeping on the sidewalk… that is shocking
Then we needed to take a taxi back which overcharged us and we couldn’t do anything about it, he then requested more money because our destination was too far and he needed to go back where he picked us up (since when taxis work that way?).
Dan (Sarah’s dad) read the book “Shantaram” long time ago where the protagonist eats regularly at Leopold’s Café in Colaba. He wanted us to go try it to see if it lives to his expectations. This café was also one of the first sites attacked in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks where dozens of people were killed.
Unfortunately, the hype didn’t live up to its expectations as the restaurant is abusing the famous name by charging too much for the food (for India) that was not good at all. We got the recommended grilled chicken with black pepper sauce and it was truly bad, you will think that after more than a 100 years (founded in 1871) they will figure out a good pepper sauce, but they haven’t yet.
There is a nice market at the Colaba Causeway St where Sarah got crazy and purchased basically everything she could get her hands on. The size of her bag didn’t stop her. And by purchasing everything this meant about 10 items for about 10 bucks! We found this store that sold american brand clothes for about 10% of the price, so Sarah got a few American Eagle shorts for like 3 bucks for all.
And then, a miracle! We saw a Mcdonalds, a rare sight here in India. It been more than a month since we saw one and of course we needed to get at least an ice cream. The menu here does not have beef; they only serve chicken, veggies and cheese which make an interestingly small menu. I got to try the McNuggets and they were good but lacked that special McDonalds flavor. Something very interesting to see was we saw a teenage girl eating a hamburger for the first time, her friend was showing her how to hold the burger in order to not make a mess, we waited to see if she liked it and by the face she made after the first bite I don’t think she will be coming back.
I got to buy a nice small painting from a really nice man on the street with his art stand. He took some much pride in his work and it was beautiful. Sarah didn’t like the idea of me buying modern art (it doesn’t make sense according to her) but it was so cheap that the hipster inside of me couldn’t resist.
Bonus Pic Of The Day: You like taxes? India is the land of the taxes! I don’t even know if we are getting scammed here, but seems to me that some of these taxes shouldn’t exist. Mineral water tax? yeah right, first make tap water drinkable and then you can charge for this commodity. Are you telling me alcohol tax is cheaper than water tax? oooh India, you keep testing my patience.