© 2013 Diana

A guided tour of Asia’s largest slum – Dharavi

Author: Revati and Charles from Mumbai, India



Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, home to 600,000 to one million people. Dharavi is the slum featured in the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. While “slum tour” seems voyeuristic and a bit exploitative, some of the companies funnel 80% of their income back into the slum in the form of community centers, tutoring centers with computers, and sports teams for the children. Tourists are not allowed to take photos in order to respect the citizens.

Our friendly guide met us outside Mahim station. We waited a while for the rest of the group (A group usually comprises 7 people) and then walked down the road, and climbed a bridge over the railway track, and entered the industrial side of Dharavi. It was a Sunday, and surprisingly, everyone was busy working. A butcher greeted us cheerfully, asking if we wanted chicken or mutton, pointing to his neighbour who was bent over a large pot, making his Sunday Biryani. We waved at him and walked on, our feet squishing through black soil.

The black soil led us to the recycling area, where we saw all our old things (from computers to shampoo bottles) being broken down, separated, washed, dried, crunched into pellets, coloured, and packaged for trade. All of this was done by hand. We climbed onto the rooftops, for a brilliant bird’s eye view of the slum. On the roof, you could see that every ounce of space is used for storage or industry. Our friendly young guide (a slum resident himself), talked us through every bit, answering any questions we had. Giving us the pure truth. No glamorized stories. How every house had electricity, legally paid for, and how postmen managed to make deliveries, and how the entire area was under proper police jurisdiction. In the distance, we saw the clothing industry that we had passed, finally setting up shop and drying the print-dyed cloth on the terraces.

Gradually we passed through several other industries, the aluminium one, where we had to cover our mouth and take a quick glimpse before we inhaled the toxic fumes that half naked labourers were working in, the soap factory (ever wondered where your leftover hotel soaps go?), the oil can washing and reshaping unit, the leather factory where leathers are preserved in salt and then sent away for tanning before they’re returned for styling. It’s amazing how everyone’s trash is segregated so well, that an entire patch was reserved only for plastic cups!

We were particularly impressed by the many industries within the slum, particularly in the area of recycling and textiles. The overall feeling was one of admiration for the citizens’ ingenuity and industriousness.


We’re Revati and Charles from Mumbai, India. We’re advertising people by profession, cooks by passion, and travellers at heart. We believe in travelling close to the ground, not signing up for travel tours, living like locals as far as possible, making detailed plans (and throwing them away we need to), diving into research, living it up when we can, living it down when we need to, finding rarely visited secrets, experimenting with food, learning a little of the local cuisine and travelling slow. [ Added by Charles: I also believe in beer!]

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