May 23, 2012

India : Mumbai - Dharavi Slum

I bet most of you people have watched or heard of the movie Slumdog Millionare. The movie is about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who is only a question away from winning Rs20 million on the Indian version of  Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Part of the shooting was done in one of Asia's largest slum, Dharavi. It is estimated that the slum has a population of 1 million people on a mere 1.7 km2. 

I read from my travel book that we can actually visit the slum. So I booked a tour with Reality Tours and Travel. You can book the tour online but since the office is located in Colaba, I decided to pay the office a visit. Finding it was quite a challenge though. There will also be some 'ulat' around there who will re-direct you to other travel company for much higher price.

So if you wanna go to the office, just find this Akber House at Nowroji Fardonji Rd.

Just follow the stairs to the upper floor where you will find this business service centre.

Go in and go up the stairs behind the counter nearby the door. You will find this small office there.

1/26, akber house
nowroji fardonji rd
opp laxmi vilas hotel
colaba mumbai 400 039
phone : +91 (0) 9820822253
email :

The staff who attended me was very friendly and helpful. Even when I wasn't sure whether or not to go for the tour, she never once persuaded me to. After listening to her explanation, I decided to join the short tour. There are two sessions for the short tour, morning and afternoon sessions. I wanted to sign up for the morning session but it was already full so I settled for the afternoon session.

I was asked to meet up at a specific spot inside the Churchgate railway station at 1.45pm. As I neared the meeting point, I saw quite a huge number of people waiting there chitchatting to each other. There were almost 20 persons. Just to make sure I wasn't joining a wrong group, I asked one of the people there whether they were gathering for the tour to Dharavi.

Just a few seconds later, I saw the staffs from Reality Tours and Travel. They started counting the attendees and collecting money from each of us to buy the train tickets. The nearest station to Dharavi is Mahim Junction and it cost us only Rs4 per way.

As we disembarked at Mahim Junction, we were separated into three groups. Each group was led by one staff. I was relieved. I mean, if we were to go touring the place in such huge group it would be quite troublesome. My group's guide, Asim, briefed us about Dharavi and some dos and don'ts for us while touring the area.

The main rule was that we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside the slum in respect for the residents. So yeah... no pictures for you. Go watch Slumdog Millionaire la then you'll know.

After that briefing, off we went to the slum area. We didn't really know what to expect. I kept on thinking about the reaction of the residents upon seeing us. Would they welcome us? Would they be happy to have visitors, which mostly comprised of the mat sallehs (I was the only Asian in my group)?

But all those doubts were gone by the welcoming smiles by them. They greeted Asim and he introduced us to them. Well, I should have expected it that way since the company has established a good rapport with the locals. If not, sure they won't survive and shooed away long time ago.  

Do you know how the residents live their lives there? Their main sources of income come from their recycling, textile and pottery industries. They have an annual turnover estimated to be about USD600 million a year. Impressive right?

Asim then brought us to see where the locals live. Walking through the narrow alleyways, I couldn't help but feel very grateful how lucky my life is. Their houses were very very small, it was smaller than the size of my bedroom. It was hard to imagine how they live inside there, especially those with large families. Add that with the lack of facilities, and the lack of proper sewage system. To be honest, the area was VERY dirty. The residents there were actually exposed to any types of public health issues.

When I saw the children playing happily in the area, I felt so sad thinking about their hard life but they were very happy to see us. I got so many hellos from them. Some of the kids were practising their English with us.

According to Reality Tours and Travel, 80% of their profits are invested in community change-making projects via their sister NGO, Reality Gives. Asim showed us a building where they teach English to the kids but it was closed at the time of our visit.

After the tour finished, we went to Reality Tours and Travel site office in Dharavi for a wrap up. You can also buy some souvenirs here and the sales will be used to support the activities of Reality Gives. Asim then sent us back to the railway station and we were off on our own from there.

Heading back to Colaba, I couldn't help myself but thought about life. It was terrible watching how hard they have to work, to push themselves out of poverty. But good thing is, they have their own activity and industry to earn money.

I paid Rs500 to visit a place considered by many as disgusting but the experience was truly priceless.


Ernie Khairina said...

I like this entry! Nvrmind no photos..well said!

rara said...

ernie: a reminder for us to be thankful for what we have :)