Mumbai is a crazy, overpopulated, addictive cultural experience which is tantalizing to the 5 senses. It is the financial capital of India and often considered to be the ‘city of dreams’. The continuous sounds of car horns and the sight of never-ending streams of people coming from every direction feels normal after being there for a few hours. Mumbai is a very modern city with a very colonial feel. Parts of it actually feel like Europe. The people of Mumbai are friendly and generally well dressed and well spoken, they seem to be slightly more western than the rest of India. There are so many incredible things we saw and learnt about this city, but I’ll only mention the highlights.
Roughly 55% of the Mumbai population live in the slums. The common misconception about the slums is that people who live there are poor. This is in fact not the case. The poor are considered to be those who sleep on the side of the road with nothing but a sheet of cardboard (if that) to sleep on. Most of the people who live in the slums rent their ‘houses’ which are often just one 6mx6m room which fits a small kitchen and enough floor space to fit 4-5 people.
We visited the Dharavi slum, the largest slum in India (strictly no photos allowed in the slums). It is divided into two sections; the industrial and the residential. The industrial area is a well organised region comprising of thousands of small businesses mainly involved in recycling and clothing. It was mainly men who worked here and it was incredible to see just how laborious and skilled their work was. There was one store where the workers were recycling old electrical cables which involved stripping off the rubber casing and taking the copper out. Another store had a man recycling aluminium with the use of a coal burner and no protective gear. Often the people who worked in the slums didn’t actually live there, they simply came there to work.
The residential area is like what was depicted on ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, very narrow alleyways, dozens of kids running around and women at home doing the housework. There was a real sense of community and the people there really seemed content with what they had. There were the occasional parts that were odorous, but surprisingly most of what we saw was relatively clean. Our tour guide told us that over the years the crime rate in the slums has steadily decreased due to the strong morals of the close-knit communities. At no stage did we ever feel unsafe in the slums.
DHOBI GHAT – OUTDOOR LAUNDRY
This is the world’s largest outdoor laundry. The land itself is owned by the government. The laundry itself consists of hundreds of rectangular concrete baths which the dhobis (laundry men) rent out. The majority of all hospitals, hotels and other large businesses send their laundry here. The process off washing includes soaking the clothes in detergent, beating each individual item against concrete, rinsing then air-drying. Apparently they dhobis make about 10RS (AUD$0.20) per item.
DABAWALLAS (LUNCH BOX MEN)
So these guys are incredible. Its a concept really only seen in Mumbai and it works. So pretty much the job of a Dabawalla is this:
1. Collect your home-made lunch from your house (which your mother or wife has just made in the morning)
2. Take the food via train to your workplace and drop it off to you
3. Pick up your food container once you’ve finished
4. Return your food container to your mother or wife at home
Now I’m sure many of you ask “Why don’t they just prepare their lunch earlier and bring it with them?” or “Why don’t they just buy lunch?”. And the answer is they really want a fresh home-cooked meal and its much cheaper than eating out. The service only costs 350-400RS (AUD$7-8) per month. These Dabawallas use no technology whatsoever in their service, they have an intricate coding system which helps them determine where the foods need to be delivered. Most of them carry 15-20 lunch boxes daily and apparently the error rate is 1 in 16 million deliveries!
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
The main area is called Kanthipura. We drove by here in a taxi as it’s quite unsafe to get out as the streets are lined with pimps and gang members. Women of varying ages with caked-on make up stand leaning against trucks and sitting on gutter edges waiting for customers. Some women service up to 20 men per night. Unfortunately many of the women were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves by either their family or friends and are locked up in cages for 2-3 years when they are first abducted. Google ‘Mumbai Red Light District’ for more details or download Hazel Thompsons ‘Taken’ IBook on Itunes. Its unbelievable the atrocities that occur behind closed doors, but unfortunately as the police often take bribes from the madams and brothel owners, most things get swept under the rug.
Probably some of the best food we’ve had so far. My personal favourite is Pani Puri which is a deep-fried puffed up hollow ball, which is broken at the top then filled with a spicy curry sauce and salt-water. Really incredible and addictive! Have a look at the photos for the other foods we tried.
So Mumbai was overall and incredible experience. We learnt so much about the people and the city and would definitely visit again if we get the chance.
Next stop Jodhpur!
Until next time
Ann & Jason xo.