A Postcard from the Field: Mumbai Through New Eyes
Last month I returned from an interesting trip to India. Despite the exceptionally hot weather I once again fell in love with this country and its one billion residents.
A colleague and I were invited on the maiden voyage of the Maharaja’s Express. The train journey began in Delhi and ended in Mumbai (Bombay). Along the way we saw the Taj Mahal, opulent forts and palaces, took jeep safaris to remote villages and rode camels in the desert to a catered dinner. Oh yeah, I also mastered elephant polo!
Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ motto is “Journey Beyond the Ordinary™,” and I had the opportunity to check out an area few get to witness. Visiting the Dharavi slums of Mumbai—where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed—may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the day ended up being a highlight of my travels to India.
Once in the slums you realize what India was like before mass tourism. For example,one thing many people will notice when traveling in India is that there is constant begging. It’s a nuisance because many people want to help the poor but know it’s impossible to do by giving in to this practice. In the Dharavi slums the people have no concept of begging. The people here are from all walks of life and all religions. They live in harmony despite their religious outlooks and views. Indeed, this tour felt like a breath of fresh air because of the peaceful harmony.
The overall cleanliness was what stuck out the most. The residents support themselves by recycling everything in sight. Therefore it is very clean once you get inside the slums. From the outside it looks like a place you would really want to steer clear of. Once inside you cannot take pictures because the people would not know what to think of it. These people live in an area that has narrow lanes that cannot accommodate vehicles or motorcycles. Therefore, you also have relief from the continuous fear of being run over by a Bombay cab driver. The lanes are clean and well maintained. Children play and the people are industrious and happy.
The real estate where these slums are is very good property. Investors are buying up the land and starting to develop the land for the emerging Indian middle class. It’s a shame knowing that the experience I had will not be possible in the near future. National Geographic has also recently published a great article about the slums I visited.
I walked away from the experience thinking, “this is the type of tour that really makes me feel I’m taking a ‘journey beyond the ordinary™.’” There is a section of the slums where they produce pottery. It’s amazing quality that can be bought for a song. I ended up buying a couple of clay pots and unfinished candle holders. This weekend I’m going to help my 2-year-old son, Tucker, paint them with his little paint set. It’ll be nice to have a token from this experience. And all for about 5 cents!