Dharavi, Dhobi Ghat, the Taj Hotel, and Rooftop Parties with Locals
08.11.2012 - 11.11.2012
So I took the 12-hour overnight to Mumbai to meet up with one of my very closest friends from Darden School of Business, Jardin. Jardin greeted me at the train station and we planned to go to Rajasthan together, but first, we spent a few days in Mumbai so I could check out his hometown
One of the first days, we took the train downtown to Churchgate and walked around town. We passed a cricket ground, where hundreds were playing cricket, with the CST train station in the background.
Jardin and me inside CST, which sees millions pass through its doors every day. It was crowded....to say the least. I've been to large cities before, but the thing that struck me about Mumbai was the population density. You saw a lot of people all of the time. It's really astonishing on first impression. Unfortunately, this was another location that was hit during the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai (During which the Taj Hotel was infamously attacked for 3 days). However, the man on the loud speaker must have saved countless lives when he announced what was going on so that people could escape the gunmen.
The CST train station is also where they filmed parts of Slumdog Millionarie. Remember the dance sequence at the end with the clocks above?
Jardin and I went to the Taj Hotel for a drink afterwards. As we were leaving, we passed by the newly opened Starbucks, the first one in India. I thought it was funny that they had a metal detector as well as armed security guards, but given the attacks that occurred in that same building some years prior, it was for the best.
The next day, we took a tour of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world. On 535 acres live over 1 million people. That's over 2,000 people per acre. Jardin found it particularly interesting, considering he grew up and basically lived his whole life in Mumbai, but had never been to or learned about Dharavi. We toured Dharavi with other Westerners (Jardin was the only local It was surprising to find the slum was divided into 2 parts: the industrial part and the place where people live. The living area was divided into the Muslim quarter and the Hindu quarter, and it was so easy to tell the difference between the two, which was surprising. The Hindu area was much more clean, as Hindu people make their homes more pristine than any other culture I've encountered.
The industrial area was equally as fascinating and surprisingly impressive. The recycling industry is huge there. Apparently, a lot of garbage from the Western world (the U.S. included) sends the trash it can't recycle (or won't for the sake of cost) to Dharavi to have it recycled there. The recycling industry is so expansive from plastics to metals and everything in between. In fact, we passed through an iron recycling plant where we basically had to hold our breath and shield our eyes for 20 seconds as we passed through because of all of the iron particles in the air. None of the plant workers use protective gear, and they end up sleeping in the iron mill to save money on a place to live. These circumstances combined with the particles in the air make for a very low life expectancy for the workers. Those who restore the carrying tins for paint unfortunately encounter the same problem of low life expectancy due to their working conditions. Ironically, Dharavi also hosts one of the best leather factories in the world, where Louis Vitton and other brands make some of their finest purses.
We ended our tour of Dharavi and moved over to the Dhobi Ghat, the largest outdoor laundromat in the world.
In each of these basins, as many as 5 people will crowd around the stone in the mornings to get their washing done. And there are hundreds of basins...
Laundry hanging to dry
One gentleman decided to give himself a bath after washing all of the clothes
They had to burn wood underneath a vat in order to boil the water to get the tough stains out
Jardin and me at the Dhobi Ghat
An iron heated the old fashioned way, with coals inside.
I thought this street sign was funny...maybe that's just me...
Then Jardin and I went to Haji Ali, one of the most famous mosques in India and quite a beautiful building. It's right on the edge of the water on the coast in Mumbai.
Because Muslims have to give a portion of their income to the poor, some of the country's most desperate beggars made the walkway to Haji Ali their domain.
It was my first experience at a mosque. After we explored the mosque, which was the first time I had been mandated to cover my head (ever, I think), we relaxed by the water with the Mumbai skyline in the background.
Then we ate one of the most delicious things in India: custard apple and cream. If you ever go to Mumbai, definitely have custard apple (citaphyl) and cream. It is absolutely one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. We had another fruit medley as well that was delicious
Then we headed to the Gateway to India
All of a sudden, some guys came up to Jardin asking to take a picture with me. Since Jardin explained to me that they were from "the village" i.e. very rural parts of India, and had probably never seen a white person before in real life, let alone one with blonde hair, I decided to be a trooper and take some photos with them. Low and behold, I didn't realize I was going to become Santa Clause at a shopping mall. Before I knew it, I had a line of people wanting to take pictures with me. After a few minutes, though, I had my taste of what it's like to be a celebrity and I was over it. Julia Roberts, I feel for ya, girl!
Then we headed back to the Taj Mahal hotel for drinks Part II
We had drinks and then headed to Leopold's, a famous restaurant frequented by Westerners (and unfortunately, another of the targets of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008; the proprietors keep the bullet holes in the ceiling as a reminder so that we never forget the atrocities that occurred there)
Afterwards, we drove home in ridiculous traffic. It took 2 1/2 hours to get back to Jardin's house at 9:30pm on a Saturday night (It had only taken 30 minutes the night before). It was ridiculous! Jardin even mentioned that he saw so many security along one of the roads that we were traveling, which he attributed to a VIP in the area. He told me that when VIPs come to town (i.e. really rich people or politicians; i.e. people who think their God's gift to the world), they will hire police to escort the road that they travel on. The only problem is that the police force does not hire more staff to continue what they were doing, so essentially staff are being pulled away from whatever they were doing (protecting the city, serving the people, catching the bad guys, etc.)
Eventually, we reached our destination: Dylan's birthday party. One of Jardin's best friends was having a birthday party on a rooftop.
One of Dylan friends was a Bollywood actor; it was great to meet a real live actor who starred as "the negative lead" on the Indian version of Days of Our Lives. The night was filled with dancing and laughter. I'm so glad I got the authentic Indian experience thanks to Jardin. Here's a picture of everyone at the party. See if you can spot the foreigner