Dharavi Slum Tours 〜 To See, or To be Shown


view over slum area next to Mumbai airport

India is an amazing country.

My friends and aquitances who had never been to India have often prejudice on this country --- positive or negative --- "spirituel" "dangerous" "poverty", were the Top 3.

India is the country where once you visit, it would not be the place that you had imagined.

All packed together, visual impact is strong, and it is difficult to define what you see. So it is definitely better seeing with your own eyes.

2008's Danny Boyle's film "Slumdog Milionaire" won numerous awards in several film festivals such as Academy, BAFTA, Golden Globe etc, and rest of the world "discover" the biggest slum in Asia, Dharavi slum in Mumbai.

Some local tour companies in the town offer Dharavi Slum tours, in fact, it did already exist prior to the film.

Upon my first visit in Mumbai, I took some days before deciding to go for a slum tour.

Slum or not slum, India or not India, I love people watching when I travel. But considering the particularity of this tour, I wondered ;

--- Could this place be a tourist attraction?

I had bought two novels in Mumbai's book shop --- "Shantaram" of Gregory David Roberts, and "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" of Katherine Boo --- both stories were set in Mumbai slum. I had curiosity to go for it.

On Google Map, you can see that vast areas in the city are slums --- how can it work in this modern big city? Nearly 55% of Mumbai habitants live in slum area, quite a big portion, indeed.

They are Mumbaikers like other half of the city.

Mumbai Dharavi Slum

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai

I did two Dharavi slum tours.

In 2012, I booked a personalized tour, and visited alone with a guide.

I was a little bit nervous when I stepped into Dharavi for the first time, among its habitants, and passed though narrow streets between hundereds of small factories where workers recyled...... everything. Things I just throw away after usage. Their work condition was not really good. There were lots to do to improve livelihood here.

We had a stop at a small print factory where my guide's acquitances worked.

They printed patterns on the clothes for exportation to the Gulf countries. I had a conversation with one of the workers who learned English. One of them went buy chai for me. I had good time there and was so glad to share a moment with people working there, like as I did with people in local markets of the town. My anxiety of the start of the tour had gone away.

Then we visited several work places and factories. We passed through narrow maze like dark residential area, and all of a sudden we came back under day light where, barefoot children were playing on the montain made of trash.

During two hours' tour, I took time to each places, talked to workers, I was very satisfied to see by myself how people were in the biggest slum in Asia. It was not as shown in Boyle's film, nor as generally imagined when we talk about slum.

Dharavi Slum Tour_edited

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai

In 2015, this time I booked a group tour running by a tour company who also ran NGO for slum dwellers.

We were about fifteen to twenty foreign tourists. Upon arriving in Dharavi, we were parted in smaller groups of four to five each. We went for the tour altogether.

I was relaxed, I had already visited once before.

The tour was well organized, the guides were nice, friendly and available.

The small factories, view from rooftop, open air pottery work place, female popaddom makers, residential areas, and at the end, NGO's community centre.

We did not really get inside of each places (except community centre) nor talk to habitants or workers.

But the guides explained us well the areas we visited, life condition of people there, as well as the humanitarian activities of the company.

While I admire them of their efficient arrangement and humanitarian activities, I just regret that I did not have opportunity of direct conact with habitants nor workers. Also, the reason of their no-photograph policy --- for "respect" to habitants? If the reason is for not bothering habitants, I understand. We were fifteen or plus, and it could be annoying for habitants if we all started to take pictures.

As I found Indians often like being taken pictures, some of them could like it, and no one else would make decision instead of them. Running tour and no-photograph policy do not seem to match.

All this, is strictly my personal opinion in limited experience. I recommend you to discover and perceive by yourself.

*** I am happy to learn that the print factory worker who I talked to during my visit in 2012, his employer's company made better profits and he was shifted to bigger factory.

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