Dharavi Mumbai to Ahmedabad, India
Day 188: Country #20.1
I booked a really cheap tour of Dharavi, India’s largest slum, but due to mixing up the station names, I wasn’t able to connect with the guide. It showed me a real life case of how our minds use shortcuts when reading. I messaged the staff and even asked someone to help call and tell them where I was standing, but they couldn’t find me because I was nowhere near them.
An interesting observation during this episode was the degree which people avoiding me because I was trying to stand out by holding an open umbrella while “inside” the part of the station that was covered. It was sprinkling outside so the umbrella was justified, but it was absolutely not tolerated while indoors. Some people even attempted to take the umbrella away from me as if my presence would cause them misfortune.
After sorting out the confusion, I rescheduled to join the afternoon tour and decided to use the wait time to revisit the Nehru Center. They were closed, so aside from discovering the dirtiest beach I’ve ever seen and the umbrella episode, I wasted the whole morning.
Once I made it to the correct rendezvous station, I found myself around the first foreign tourist group in a long while. It felt a little unusual, but soon the guide took charge and lead us through Dharavi.
He asked that we refrain from taking photos, which I respected. Then he told us about the lives and circumstances of the nearly 1 million people packed in the dense communities of run down huts and shacks with very limited sanitation, and how they make their living rummaging through, breaking down, and recycling Mumbai’s bottles, trash and waste. Many were migrant laborers. There were mainly stories of despair and inescapable life circumstances, but also a few glimmers of opportunities and relative successes, such as the expensive leather shops which we lingered in (here, I realized why the tour was so cheap).
Ultimately, despite how Dharavi’s conditions were laid bare, the organizations and tour operations which lure tourists in were infusing the local economy with foreign money.
With only a few hours left in Mumbai, I joined the other tourists for dinner back near Churchgate so I could get some tips and suggestions for the next legs of my journey. The dinner confirmed why I like backpacking over vacation style travel. With the time and money spent for one drink and entree, I could have read everything in an entire museum and still have enough money to enjoy the whole rest of the day exploring the city. Fortunately, I had to leave early to get my bag from the hostel and catch the overnight bus to Ahmedabad, a city whose name implies that I would be entering a very different region of India.
When traveling with others, make sure you share compatible expectations of what is fun, interesting, and worth spending time and money on. Simply sharing the common label of “backpacker” is not enough because backpackers come in very different flavors.