Sunday, October 4, 2015



Land of contrasts. Opportunities. Inequality.

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, was the first destination of our journey, and what a way to start... I confess that expectations were low, and perhaps that’s why we were so impressed with this crazy city. It reminded me a little of São Paulo, with its chaotic traffic and people from all over the country trying to make a living, working hard and living far away, because they cannot even afford a rental at the slum.

Visit to the Slum

Remember the movie 'Slumdog Millionaire' that won several Oscars? Here is the slum that inspired the movie, and some say it is the largest of all Asia. Our visit to Dharavi slum organized by Reality Tours was the highlight of our stay in Mumbai, and such a striking experience that will be forever imprinted on our minds, as a first tattoo.

Dharavi is the largest and most famous symbol of inequality in income distribution of Mumbai, and can be considered a city within the city. With about 1 million people per square mile, this slum is considered the most densely populated area on the planet. Although the film has been a huge success worldwide, for its residents, the publicity was considered of very bad taste. So the strict rule prohibiting photographing or filming during the tour. I will try my best to describe it, although the expression "seeing is believing" has never been better used.

The slum is divided between the residential part and the small industries. We started touring the recycling plants. Here nothing is lost, everything is transformed. Plastic, metal, glass, aluminium and even soap – remember the leftover soap we leave at the hotel?  Guess what, here they are collected and reused. They also produce coal, machinery, leather, ceramics, and even bakeries; although the chapatis and parathas baked here do not say its origin on the packaging, because if so, no one would buy it!

Gradually the streets were becoming increasingly narrow, cluttered and winding; to the point of the entire group having to walk in a single file, taking care not to break our head against the a ceiling, a piece of iron or an electrical cord. We arrived at the residential area and although we tried to act naturally, we couldn’t help but notice the size of houses. Here, families of six people on average live in rooms of 7 X 7 feet, counting a small kitchen with pantry, a gas stove, electricity and cable TV. Running water has special distribution hours. Women bathe using a bucket inside the houses and the men outside, usually wrapped in a white sarong, also known as "lungi". The bathrooms are shared, and it is estimated that each toilet is used by 1450 people. So everyone ends up doing ‘the business’ outdoors. Impossible to describe the smell and dirt accumulated in mountains of garbage while children run naked and barefoot next to chickens, cows and dogs.

Nothing moved me as much as this visit to Dharavi. It was the strongest experience of my life. Anyone who knows me knows I never believed in luck. Once you see the reality of these people, I have no doubts that I am an extremely lucky person. Lucky of being born in the country, the city and the family I was born. And to be thankful for all the opportunities and things that I gained in this life, and never take anything for granted.

Visit to Dhobi Ghat

After Dharavi, we took the train towards "Dhobi Ghat", one of the world’s largest open air laundromat. "Dhobi" means laundry auxiliary and "Ghat", the concrete tanks. While the laundry is public, it is impossible to visit it by yourself, since right at the entry, the ‘laundry pimp’ fits you a ‘tour guide’ who generally works there and barely speaks a word of English. 

Once again, it was striking to see these people working in such poor conditions, feet and hands eaten by chemicals, living crammed into small, dirty and dark shacks. But I have to confess that looking beyond this reality, the laundry has its charm, with its thousands of concrete vats and colorful clothes. It was not surprising to learn that some of the city’s famous 5-star hotels send their dirty laundry there.

But Mumbai is not only slums. The most southern point of the town is very beautiful, with its buildings following English colonial architecture, public parks where cricket is played on Sundays, bars, restaurants and cultural fairs. Here everyone speaks English, even among themselves.

Elephanta Island

We also did a very interesting half-day tour to Elephant Island, which is about 10 km from Mumbai, and shows signs of a civilization that inhabited the region till the 6th century. In short there are several groups of caves with temples and sculptures carved in stone in honor of the Hindu gods. 

For more on our visit to Elephanta Island, watch the video below
(turn on captions for English subtitles)

Photo Gallery


1 comment:

  1. Mumbai, India to me is the city of culture, food and rich background. Yes, it has some backward areas but that never dims the beauty it is.