Far away from the shiny five-star hotels and the air-conditioned tourist places in Mumbai, I was curious about the other side of the metropolis. I explored the way of life that millions of Indians live day by day: on the streets of Mumbai.
Mumbai is such a diverse city. Yes, it is hot. It smells different and the honking of the thousands of cars is going to get on your nerves. But in its own right, Mumbai is an incredible place. Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the cultural life and soak up all the things travel includes – or prefer to just go sightseeing at the standard places like the Gateway of India, the Taj, the hanging gardens or the Café Leopold made famous by the book Shantaram. It is literally breath-taking and enriches you in so many ways. Be open for it.
I was really curious about the slums of Mumbai. I took the chance to step into Mumbai’s most famous slum and also the biggest in Asia: The Dharavi. Since the movie Slumdog Millionaire was released, more and more companies offer tours through the slum. Taking a close look into real life in the slums is absolutely worth it. When I walked through the Dharavi I was pretty impressed how organised, clean and structured the slum is. With all the crafts and recycling and reselling shops, the Dharavi Slum is a multi-million business. The fact that the majority of inhabitants of the slums live comfortable means they often feel offended by the way tourists look at them. They don’t want to be seen as poor and pitiful. In fact, most of them send their children to school.
I also asked one of the thousand taxi drivers to get me to the Dhobi Ghat. With more than 5000 people working and living there, it is the biggest open-air laundry in the world. For a small fee, it is possible to be taken on a personal tour through there as well. The houses are little more than tiny sheds with not more than a table inside. Around 10 people live in a shed and share everything. In front of the sheds there are hundreds of laundry cells built next to each other. Around 100,000 pieces of clothing are washed every day by the men and women in the washing district. Here, new clothes are bleached before being exported to Europe and the USA. Old saree are recycled, washed and delivered to the markets where tourist can buy them as second-hand items.
An even better, faster and more relaxing way than hiring a taxi, is to rent a motorbike and explore Mumbai on your own. No, not throughout the day when the traffic is horrendous. Instead, you should go for a ride during the night. The streets will be less crowded, the air is cleaner and it is a truly incredible feeling to drive along the bay in night time. When you are on the most northern point of the Marine Drive, check out the incredible view looking towards the bay ahead. The panorama is also known as the "Queen’s Necklace".
To round out your experience in this mega-city, make sure to visit the locally reknowned Bademiya restaurant behind the Taj at least once. It started out as a street food wagon (which is still operating as well) and became well known for delicious food. Nowadays there are three different locations in one street which serve their food beyond midnight.