I never thought visiting Dharavi, the largest slum area in Asia, was a real possibility. Every year in India we repeatedly ask to be taken there and hotel staff as well as tour guides are being cagey about it, insinuating that there isn't anything worth seeing or that strangers are not allowed inside. Needless to say, this is very far from the truth because as we realised you simply haven't seen Mumbai if you haven't been to Dharavi.
This year we were lucky enough to meet someone from a Dharavi tourist office, operated inside Dharavi by Dharavi locals, all of them young college students who support their studies by giving tours of the mysterious "neighbourhood" which houses almost 2 million people. To our surprise, we found out that Dharavi is not just a poor and packed residential area like most foreigners and Indians think, or just the place where Slumdog Millionaire was shot, but the primary economic force of Mumbai, maintaing leading industrial activity in recycling, pottery, leather making, textiles and many other areas, in about 15.000 single room factories. We were more than impressed with how busy and hardworking everyone seemed and realised that Dharavi is something for Mumbai to be proud of, instead of an ugly aspect of their city which needs to be suppressed and hidden from the public. What is more, people were friendly and welcoming and there wasn't a moment when we didn't feel safe.
I managed to take a few photos, but some people were thrown off at the sight of the camera and I always had to ask for permission before snapping. If you ever find yourselves in Mumbai, contact Be the Local for a tour of the slums, I promise you won't regret it.
Parts of textile and recycling industries
A temple in Dharavi
Thank you for reading!