HEAD India












19.4. - 21.4. 2014, travel book part VIII.


Why to go to Mumbai

Mumbai was my last stop before heading back home [Maharashtra state, population 23 million]. It is a city of the Slumdog Millionaire, full of unbelievable contrasts. Modern buildings are in a close neighborhood with grey slums. And my journey took me to one of the biggest slums of Asia – Dharavi slum.


How to get to Mumbai

I found other travelers in Palolem and we shared our expenses to cover the taxi ride to the airport [70 km, 1200 INR, the whole taxi, 1,5 hours]. I realized that I need more rupees on the airport so I went to the ATM, but right in the moment that the money was supposed to get out of it, some idiots beside me cut the power. That money obviously got stuck somewhere in the middle and I could only be glad that the ATM gave back my card. When I was flying to Goa I could see green palm trees beneath me, but on my way to Mumbai, all I could see was grey slums [13:50 – 14:50, 750 km, 55 EUR]. I took a prepaid taxi on the airport and we set out on the overcrowded roads towards Colaba [470 INR, 1 hour, 30 km]. Even though there are lines on Indian roads, the traffic is complete chaos and the one ones in the lead are the ones with loudest horns. We were on our way, in the sound of endless honking, cars being like glued door to door.


Accommodation tip in Mumbai

I wanted to stay in colonial quarters near famous station Victoria terminus. Prices in Mumbai are the highest in India, but I didn't mind and chose Hotel Residency Fort [you can find them on or, 3500 INR]. And whenever I was approached by beggars who questioned me about where I stay, I had a name of another hotel prepared – one that was much cheaper.


My experience in Mumbai

Right after I checked in, I went for a walk to the famous station Victoria terminus – Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Completely amazed, I stared at the beauty and perfection of the building. I only saw it on pictures till now and here I stand before it. I went inside to breath in the atmosphere of the busy station. This railway carries over 6 million people every day, out of which 2 million people get on the train on this station. Ten people die on a train in Mumbai every day. Whoever have seen the Slumdog Millionaire will be reminded of the final dancing scene on the station. It was filmed right here. And because trains don't run in Mumbai between two and four o'clock in the morning, it was filmed over 14 days. Poor extras didn't mind, for a day of shooting they got 500 rupees. In the year 2008, terrorists were shooting right here during the attacks in Mumbai.

India Victoria terminus - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai

Victoria terminus - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

I was walking towards Bombay High Court and met a young guy who spoke perfect English. He immediately got himself into a role of my tour-guide. He showed me buildings of Indian empire Tat, hotel Taj Mahal and guided me towards the High Court building. He was from Jaipur, went to high school and because he didn't have money for university, he lived on the streets of Mumbai and was cleaning shoes for living. I gave him 100 rupees as a thank you, but he surprised me because he was demanding 2000 rupees instead. He told me it could change his life, because he would be able to buy a kit for shoe cleaning. I felt sorry for him, but I didn't have that kind of money on me.

Bombay High Court is another beautiful building, surrounded by palm trees. In front of it, there is a large field, where what seemed like hundreds of teams play cricket. When I was trying to cross on another pavement, I was scared I'd get hit by a ball.

India Mumbai High court

Bombay High court

I walked to Marina drive, which is a beautiful quayside promenade surrounded by modern buildings. It is possible to see the whole bay from here. It was nice and sunny, with a pleasant breeze, people here were doing sports or walked with their dates.

India Mumbai Marina drive

Marina drive

When it got dark I went back to Victoria terminus and took some evening pictures.

In the morning I walked to Reality Tours and Travel, where I arranged a trip to Dhobi Ghat and Dharavi slum [1400 INR] Their office is near hotel Taj Mahal and India Gate memorial and because I was there early, I went to see the famous hotel. Right in front of it I could see a number of sleeping homeless people and some dead rats near them. This was also a place of shootings in 2008, and I could see that the safety of the hotel is guarded by armored cars these days.

India Taj Mahal hotel Mumbai

Taj Mahal hotel

Together with three other travelers and a tour guide from Reality tours and travels, we set out to Dharavi. First, we went through quarter of red lamps Kamathipura, which in 1992 in 14 side alleys was a place of work for over 60 thousand prostitutes, whom offered their services for 200 rupees. Next stop was a bridge near Dhobi ghat. It is a Mumbai laundry room under the sky – three thousand people wash laundry from hotels, hospitals and factories, in 800 barrels. Every worker washes 700 pieces of clothing in 10-hour shift and earn 300 rupees.

India Mumbai Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat

We were getting closer to Dharavi, the slum from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Mumbai has over 200 thousand slums and it is a place of home for nearly half of Mumbai's population, however Dharavi is the biggest one and also the second biggest slum in Asia. It was founded in 1840 and there is over 1.2 million people living here on 2 square kilometers. Which means that the population density here is 600 thousand people for a square kilometer. This slum is made by 200 thousand tiny houses placed closely together. Half of these have only one room, 10 square meters big and the other luckier half has more than one room but still fits into 25 square meters. Government is trying to change this, reduce the number of slums and smooth out the huge contrast of the city by offering locals to move into apartments in skyscrapers that are just beside these slums. However, locals are not excited about this offer and decline it, mostly because these apartments are not big enough for a family of five and also because they would lose their livelihood.

India Dharavi slum Mumbai

Dharavi slum

We walked to the slum through a bridge where it was our last chance to take pictures, it was forbidden to take them inside of the slum. Dharavi is divided into many parts, we went to the one designated for manufactories and heavy industry first. There are around ten thousand manufactories in Dharavi and they turn-over approximately 665 million dollars. Workers here are not only people from the slum but from all over India. They work in this highly dangerous environment for 8 months a year, with a monthly pay of 100 USD and then with their slightly damaged health return to their families during monsoon season. The biggest trade in Dharavi however, would be the recycling industry. Poorest of Indians build their livelihood in Mumbai by picking empty plastic wrappers and bottles and sell them for few rupees to buyers, that take them in large quantities to Dharavi. This plastic is then processed by workers that crush it, wash it, dry it on the rooftops and then store it in bags. Economy in slum really does work: doesn’t matter if you need to melt some aluminum or get your haircut – both can be done just few steps away of each other. We crossed a bridge above a river which is more of a still black gutter that flows without any filtration straight into the sea. On the other side of a black bubbly gutter is residential side of the slum. People here live in Muslim and Hindu quarters, which were formed after religious troubles in 1992. Even here are some manufactories, however these are not that harmful to health, so you can find bakeries, barber shops, textile factories and other retail here. It is very busy in these narrow streets, there is a lot of people running, others are taking bath and there are goats everywhere. Water is valuable here, it is led by narrow pipes and only flows from 160 taps. Because it is only available for 3-4 hours a day, locals have to stock up their water in barrels. There are only 700 public toilets in Dharavi which means that 1500 people share the same toilet. At least electricity is available all day and locals can have satellites on their roofs. Streets here are often so narrow that you can barely walk through and there is a sewer right underneath your feet. If you get a chance to glimpse a street with more space, it is often covered in rubbish. Junkyards are illegal and dangerous in slums, especially for small children because they can be a source of horrible diseases. And right behind this pile of rubbish you can see brand new skyscraper. We finished our visit in a quarter designated for leather and pots industry. Local factories are often supplying brand companies abroad that only add their logos to these products.

India Dharavi slum Mumbai

Dharavi slum

I spent my last afternoon in India in shops. While I was walking I observed how young people play cricket on the streets, how bricklayers climb bamboo ladders and how crow eats a rat. In the evening I got in a taxi, headed towards new modern airport and say my last goodbye to India.



... where to go next? Have a look at my Indian itineraryphotos from my journey or a quick summary before you go to India. If you have any questions, leave a comment, I usually respond within one day.

... do you plan to travel to the south of India? Then look at my second trip to India




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