Mumbai – Slumcat Millionaire

Mumbai is an incredibly diverse city. With a population of more than 18 million people, it covers every religion, race, and socio-economic group imaginable. The area I stayed in, Bandra, is a Melbourne-esque area, metropolitan, lots of fabulous bars and restaurants, market shopping, and a modern vibe.  The city is huge, and there are tall modern-looking office blocks within vision at all times. The roads have heavy traffic but unlike Bangalore, the traffic flows. Drivers are more courteous and people tend to stick to their lane a lot better than other driving I’ve seen.

I arrived in Mumbai on Friday night and got a cab to my Air BnB. I have now had two fantastic experiences with Air BnB and would recommend to anyone! I stayed with a beautiful man who is a model and actor, and former Mr India World. Not only is he gorgeous, but a genuinely lovely chap and I wish we’d had more time to chat.

Saturday morning, I went on a slum tour with Reality Tours. Dharavi, the third- largest slum in the world, has about a million people living in it. Some slum facts for you:

-Technically, a slum is government owned land that has been illegally built on.

-About 30% of residents are Muslim, 60% Hindu, the rest are Christian, Buddists, or undefined.  There are distinct Muslim and Hindu ‘areas’ in the slum. There was a Muslim vs Hindu ‘war’ in the early 1990’s which resulted in a lot of deaths, but as long as no-one destroys any temples or mosques they all get along OK now.

-The slum is set up with industries, childcare services, and shops, and it’s a thriving economy all of its own.

-There’s about one toilet per thousand people. So you can imagine the biggest problem here is sanitation. The ‘river’ that runs through the centre of the slum is a giant open sewer.

-The average wage in the factories in the slum is about Rs. 300 a day, or $6 NZD. To put this into perspective, I spent Rs 300 a day on Ubers getting to my office and home again.

-This is the slum that Slumdog Millionair was filmed at.

To be honest, the place blew away preconceived notions I had about slums. One half of the area was the toxic industries- the recycling of plastics and metals.  They collect plastic waste, sort it, clean in, dry it, melt it down and turn it into ‘wire’ that is sold to be turned back into products. Metal is cleaned and re-purposed too.

Then over the other side of the river is where the non-toxic industries and the residential area is found. Densely packed, with some alleyways you had to crouch and twist to get through, with electrical cables twisted like jungle vines hanging overhead. Where women wash their clothes at their front step, 1m from her neighbour doing the same thing. This area is interspersed with various trades- sewing jeans, making luggage, making pastry, leather processing (not the tannery itself), pottery, and making papad.  A hive of people and activity, children in clean, pressed uniforms coming back from school. Kids playing cricket in a dusty playground. Grumpy looking men carrying things balanced on their heads. Fewer dogs than I expected but many friendly cats. Everyone has a job- Granddad walking around with a big sack picking up plastic bottles, Grandma sorting through Diya (little pottery bowls used for oil for religious purposes).

A woman washes clothes outside her home in the Kumbharwada pottery area of Dharavi
Dharavi slum street scene
A worker in the leather room- the thing behind him is a giant washing machine for the hides. Primarily goat, buffalo, and sheep. No cow leather!
A typical street scene
The ‘river’ that runs through Dharavi
Women earn extra income by making papadums (papad)
Men sewing
Slum cat

I couldn’t live there. But these people, these families, are productive and happy. I’m sure they want a better life for themselves, but they are doing OK. Certainly, they are doing better than the beggars at the traffic lights, and the families that live on traffic islands in Delhi.

Part of the deal with the slum tour is you aren’t allowed to take photos so all the slum photos I’ve nefariously nicked from the internet.

It was 40oC ish degrees, one of those days where you can feel the sweat dripping down your legs, so I went to Café Mondegar for lunch, then gently cruised the city for the afternoon. I walked through the city streets, admiring the British architecture, the buzz of the frenetic city around me, the knowledge that around me, millions of people were living their lives intersecting with mine if only for a brief second.

A pretty clock tower I found in the gardens
Inside of a museum

That night I went and had a delicious meal, tuna tartare on crispy rice, it was amazing. First seafood since Goa, living in Bangalore I’m miles from the coast and don’t trust the smell that greets me whenever I see a fish salesman.

Tuna tartare on crispy rice

Sunday, I met up with a friend, Kalyani, and two of her friends. We had breakfast at a local hole-in-the-wall place (my favourite type of place) and the West Indian breakfast was delicious. Then we hopped on a ferry and went to Elephanta Island.

It was named Elephanta Island by the Portugese, who named it after the huge elephant sculpture at the entrance to the island. They decided to take it home, and proceeded to drop it into the water when their chains broke. The Portugese also destroyed the scuptures, and by all accounts, were giant asses. It’s a series of caves that were carved about the 5th– 6th century AD and quite frankly, the first cave is incredible. The rest are just a nice walk, and a good place to spot monkeys.

The walk up the hill from the ferry
Interior of Cave 1 at Elephanta Caves
One of the statues. you can see how everything about arm height and below has been damaged- the Portugese were assholes.
Every single carving was destroyed by the Portugese
The entrance to cave #2
One of the caves towards the end- you can see this was in progress when worked stopped. The thing in the middle with a round thing on a block is actually a religious thing- a Shivling.
The view through a damaged wall into another of the caves.
Obligatory monkey picture

Then we ferried back to the mainland, and went to a stretch of street food vendors for a late lunch. We had pav bhaji, pani puri, and gola.

Feeding the seagulls from the ferry en route home
Gateway to India and the Taj Hotel
Beautiful people
Pav Bhaji. The ‘pav’ is a soft white bread rolls that’s fried in ghee and is used as a vehicle to get the bhaji in your mouth. The Bhaji is a thick vegetable curry- tomatoes and a bunch of other things. It’s DELICIOUS.

And then it was home time… watched a spectacular Bombay sunset from the tarmac and then back to Bangalore. Magical Mumbai.

Sunset from the tarmac

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