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Visiting the Mumbai Slums

Visiting the Mumbai Slums

I’ll never forget my visit to this slum. I just finished watching Slumdog Millionaire when I set sail for the biggest slum in Asia: Mumbai’s Dharavi Slum.

On my way there I traveled through the Victoria terminus, the train station where the last scene of Slumdog was shot. When I left the at the slum’s station, I somehow I expected to stand in the middle of the slum. It was a big surprise to me to, at first sight, not see a busy slum but a rather modern building:

Right next to the slum: Modern buildings
Right next to the slum: Modern buildings

 

The railroad acts as a border between the slum and one of the richest parts of Mumbai. So there was a bridge to cross.

Railroad bridge between the slum and the city
Railroad bridge between the slum and the city

 

While walking on the bridge I could lay my eyes on the slum for the first time. Let’s call it a welcoming experience.

Visitors are welcome here
Visitors are welcome here

 

In India, everyone seems to have at least one cousin who organizes tours through a certain part of town. We asked around and were sent to a glue-recycling plant instead because the owner might know some more local guides. He let us take pictures and gave me permission to post them online, as long as I would not include his name.

 

Glue being recycled in the slum
Glue being recycled in the slum

We had to wait for our guide for almost an hour. The meantime turned out to be our most valuable time in the slum as we chatted with the owner and learned much about the vibrant life in the slum. His business consisted mainly out of recycling empty bags which were used in the glue production process in a well-known German company. His employees were busy separating the glue from the plastic and recycled both.

Employees washing their hands after working with glue
Employees washing their hands after working with glue

 

What surprised me was that most people live there by choice. They earn good money, get free accommodation and free food. While the work is in fact unhealthy and unregulated, most people use the slums to work and live only for a short period of time and earn some extra cash. It allows them to save up to start their own business in the city. The main business of slums is recycling. They recycle almost anything you can think of, from plastic to paint cans.

When our guide turned up he did his absolute best to navigate us through narrow streets and hidden alleyways. There was child labor and dirty water, but the overall experience was still slightly less sad than I expected.

Paint cans to be reycled
Paint cans to be recycled

 

What I took away from this trip is that people in this slum are happy with their lives, welcoming to guests and willing to share their stories.

More pictures?

For more pictures, please take a look on my Facebook page: That Earth on Facebook.

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What do you think of slums? Should they be closed down, regulated or left alone? Please share your opinions below.

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Jan