After the madness of the pre-wedding celebrations on the rooftop of Ville Parle East we all had a day off on the Friday before the big day on the Saturday.
Ollie and Neem had more intimate ceremonies to perform so the rest of the Irish (American and Scottish) contingent were booked on the Reality Tours – Slum Tour and City Heritage Tour for the whole day.
Our guides were Dinesh and Suresh and after getting comfortable in the bus they proceeded to break the day down for us and to prepare us for what we would experience in Dharavi, the king of the slums!
In a city of 18.2 Million people Mumbai is a vast city of contrast. You have the richest personal home in all of Asia – Antilia owned by Mukesh Ambani and, not far away at all, in fact basking in the shadow of this home is the largest slum population of any other city in the world. 6% of the total population of Mumbai live in Dharavi. And while it is called a slum most of these earn a living in Dharavi. There is a whole industry of textile and manufactured goods being churned out – over $1bn per year.
Dharavi captured the imagination of Western audiences as it was the setting for Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Milionaire (2008) starring Dev Patel.
Sandwiched between the two main railway lines, over 1 million slum dogs exist on 1.75 Sq Km. The maze of alleys and sewer lined streets make this a city within a city.
We got off the bus and split into 3 groups to aid our navigation through the vast urban jungle. First up we encountered heavier (toxic) industries such as plastic recycling and aluminium plating. The work conditions would give any Occupational Health Specialists an absolute fit and we were told that the workers also sleep in the factories so as best to help their meager wages go further. It was pretty surreal!
As we went further in we then encountered the Tanneries and Bakeries and Potter Shops. Historically the Tanneries are one of the longest and most polluting industry in Dharavi as the first one was opened in 1887.
Apparently US Polo send over their leathers for the workers of Dharavi to turn into jackets which are then sold at huge margins to western consumers. ‘Made in America’ I think not!
The next part of the slum tour was the most visceral. We headed to the residential sectors and these were no better than pictures of the Warsaw Ghetto you would see in a documentary. Most families only have 1 room in a tiny house. 2 if they are very lucky. The alleyways between them are so tight that John had to walk sideways like a crab for quite a bit.
The residential zone is divided by religion, everyone mingles at work and gets on but they live separately. In the Islamic sector all the properties and businesses boast green Islamic flags and it was very eerily quiet. In the Hindu Sector there was loud Bollywood music and kids playing cricket in the few open spaces. It felt a bit like The Crystal Maze when Richard O’Brien led the team to the next zone.
The last part of the tour was to see the improvements that the Tour Group ( staffed fully by slum-dogs) were making in education and health in Dharavi.
In the school they ran we noticed Dance Lyrics on a notice board that are taught to increase the English Language skills. Edward Rhys Thomas would be proud as they were all from songs by his favourite group… Aqua!
At the Tour Shop we wrote and posted some postcards home ( I wonder if they will arrive!) and headed on the bus.
Lunch was taken and we all piled into Aloo Gobi, Naan, Biryani, Dhal, Pakhora except one of the group who had pizza and then developed Delhi Belly (Edit: Not John!).
The second half of the tour was a bit of an anti-climax as the sights were a bit samey. A small Jain Temple, bit of a disappointment after Ranakpur. a mosque from a distance.The highlight was the Botanical Gardens overlooking the bay. Nothing to compete with Dharavi though.
After the 2 hour bus ride through Mumbai Gridlock traffic we made it back to the hotel and his an early night to get ready for our busy day tomorrow.
Before I finish I would like to point out that the first Celtic Jersey I saw on our trip was in the heart of Daharavi. Also Fabio Capello was spotted in a car next to our bus but he got away before I could snap him.
Note: we were not allowed to take photos of the slums to protect the privacy of the people. (All Photos from Tour Website) Hot showers and plenty of anti bacteria gel was used after this trip.