26th November – 28th November 2019
We arrived in Mumbai late morning as the hazy sun was trying to peep through the clouds and dust – it was probably circa 35 degrees. We were recommended by the Indian lady sat next to us on the plane to book a “tourist taxi” downstairs in the terminal. Our first bit of bartering was played out as we got the taxi man down to 900₹ (about £9.70) to our hostel in the Bandra district. The ride was only 30 minutes and we later found out that you can get an Uber for 180₹ (about £1.95). Jack claims he was just having an off day with his bartering!
The journey to the hostel went smoothly until we reached a narrow side street which hosted what seemed like one of the largest markets in Mumbai! Our driver was beeping his horn and the passers by were banging on the taxi as we were the largest vehicle by far on the road. Eventually, a man from the hostel spotted us and told us to get out of the taxi and walk with our bags down an even smaller side street! I am glad the man noticed us as the hostel itself looked like a shack from the outside with blue tarpaulin and a metal roof. We would have walked straight past!
The Horn Ok Please Hostel was like an oasis inside, we were firstly greeted by the owner with a warm smile who showed us around the communal facilities, showers and our 6 bed AC dorm (no expense spared!). It was clean and only had 5 dorm rooms, so felt very homely. We met a great bunch of people in the hostel who invited us to join them for dinner (we were a bit surprised as most of the people there were our age or older, not the gap yah youngens we thought). We ate at a tiny street side restaurant with huge silver pans full of bubbling curry at the front with only a handful of benches inside – we were knee deep in real Mumbai. The air was sweaty and spicy! One of the other guys had been to the restaurant before so we knew we were in safe hands and he ordered for us – all vegetarian. The meal for 4 people cost 250₹ in total (£2.70) and we were stuffed by the end! We had certainly nose-dived ourselves into India, and we loved it.
The next day we booked ourselves on a tour through Reality Tours to explore one of the largest growing economies in India: Dharavi slum (£765,00,000 GDP from 1 million people in just over 2.1 km2). 80% of the profit goes towards a local school in the slum for 14 years old and upwards, as their government education finishes at 13 years old. We had to catch the local train to get there which was interesting as we ended up on a fast train instead which didn’t stop at the right station. So, we had to get back on the train and go back on ourselves making sure it was a slow train instead! The guide was from the slum and still lives there. He showed us around the commercial district first where they recycle everything known to man: plastic (from fridge freezers, TVs, water bottles, buttons etc), cardboard boxes, paint pots, car parts, splitting each item into their individual components. One factory is responsible for baking over 50,000 biscuits a day which are then shipped out to the whole city. He made a point of saying they don’t advertise on the packaging that it was manufactured in the slum as people wouldn’t buy it. They also had a leather workshop where they only use goat, sheep and buffalo skin (not cow) and use wooden templates to imprint ‘alligator-like’ and ‘snake-like’ markings on the leather. It’s also worth noting that so large is this slum, that although it is not “officially” recognised by the local government, it does have its own democratically elected council, hospitals and even banks!
After, we visited the residential sector and walked down one of the narrowest streets (approx. 45cm wide) – the buildings were so close together there was no natural light coming down to street level (the tour was at 1pm!). You had to watch your feet as the drainage canal was taking up about 50% of the path and you also had to watch your head for the low hanging wires (many of which were exposed and live!) The residential section also comprised of a pottery district where they made lanterns and water containers. Jack noticed that there was asbestos literally everywhere, most of the lower level roofs around this district were made of corrugated asbestos sheeting, however most worrying was the fact that they were lining the roofs of the kilns with flock asbestos, which in England is only handled with decontamination suits and is strictly licensed work.
The slum wasn’t as smelly or disorganised as we would have expected. Instead, it was a tight knit community of happy people who are just striving to make a living. They refuse to be displaced by the Government because they know they will never beat the position they are already in, especially when they are so close to 2 mainline railway stations with connections to the rest of the city. The only time they suffer is during monsoon season when their open sewers flood and they are forced to live high up. The houses are usually 2 or 3 floors high as the whole extended family lives together (10-20 people) and are surprisingly well constructed. These aren’t just shacks made from ply and corrugated sheets, but brick and block or reinforced concrete (the same as England).
After the slum tour, we headed back to Bandra to buy our sim cards from the Vodafone shop – only 560₹ for 3 months and 1.5GB/day!! We asked the hostel where to go for a Dosa as we were craving our first fix. She pointed us in the direction of a nearby fast food café just a 5 minute walk away.
We were glad we had only booked 2 nights as Mumbai was mad, very hot and very dusty! It was a great introduction to India however we were looking forward to some R&R in Goa and unpacking our rucksacks.