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Experiencing Life in an Indian Slum. | Captain and Clark I would never have guessed that Mumbai’s largest slum would be one of my favorite parts of India. Not only my favorite, but one of the calmest, safest, and most informational too. In Mumbai we had the chance to tour the largest Indian slum, Dharavi. In fact, Dharavi is actually the largest slum in Asia, ...
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Experiencing Life in an Indian Slum.

I would never have guessed that Mumbai’s largest slum would be one of my favorite parts of India. Not only my favorite, but one of the calmest, safest, and most informational too.

factory man in Indian slum

In Mumbai we had the chance to tour the largest Indian slum, Dharavi. In fact, Dharavi is actually the largest slum in Asia, not by size, but rather by population. It is also one of the most productive and least crime ridden parts of all of India. We booked our tour with Reality Tours. They specialize in allowing travelers to see the real India. They hire local guides, give back almost all of the proceeds into development of the community, and delve into understanding the area and the culture. In short, we love them. We walked into Asia’s largest slum ignorant and emerged aglow with a new zeal for life and understanding.

Things to see in MumbaiWe embarked for Mumbai uncertain of what we wanted to see, but we knew that we wanted to be changed by India. Arriving in Mumbai can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned of travelers. A slum was the last place we expected to find calm and solace.

One of the many things we really respected about the way Reality Tours operates is that they insist that you don’t film or take pictures. We were a little hesitant at first since that goes against everything we believe in. However we got on board with the idea after our guide explained that this was to keep the experience as natural as possible and to avoid intruding into peoples lives. All of the families and homes you visit along the way are from people who have volunteered to be a part of the tour.

Some interesting things we learned along the way:

Recycling programs in Dharavi

Vegetable oil cans are recycled up to seven times

A large portion (much larger than most people would ever expect) of goods in India are produced in the slum.  People collect vegetable oil cans and other items from trash heaps and sell them in the slum. Large warehouses of workers then clean and re-shape the cans, paint buckets, and other items and sell them to companies to be used again. A can for vegetable oil can be recycled and reused up to seven times.

where does the plastic for cell phones come from

Plastic for cell phones is gathered in Mumbai and processed in the slum

Plastic is another popular item to be recycled in the slum. Trash from all over Mumbai is gathered together and cleaned before it is separated into different colors. Afterwards it is shredded into tiny pellets with machines made from old engines. These colored pellets will be sold to cellphone companies across Asia to be melted down into cellphones and cellphone covers.

cardboard recyclingA large majority of employment in Mumbai comes from the slum. Recycling centers are a large portion of that. There are also hospitals, scooter and car dealerships, refineries, grocery stores, schools, colleges, and everything else you’d expect in a city. All of these services make it so that if you live in the slum you wouldn’t ever have to leave to find anything necessary to daily life. In fact, 40% of the Dharavi slum’s population is the Mumbai police force. Dharavi has a 0.01% recorded crime rate. That small percent is from corruption.

Places to see in Mumbai

This particular slum is considered a 5 star slum. While the living conditions are cramped and the citizens share small communal toilets (there is about 1 communal toilet per 50,000 people) there are a great deal of advancements that make the Dharavi slum one of the better slums in the world. Two times a day there is running water. Most families use this time to fill large water jugs in their homes for use later in the day. There are also more schools per capita in the slum than most parts of Mumbai.

The streets of Dharavi

The streets of Dharavi

There are a few different tour packages to choose from. All of them take you through the daily life of the slum. The longer tour will also take you through the Dhobi Ghat (open-air laundry) and the red-light district. One of the most interesting parts for me was to see the separate parts of the slum. It is arranged into a winding labyrinth of Muslim and Hindu quarters. We actually arrived the day after a Muslim festival and there were thousands of goat hides piled in the streets. All of them being cleaned for use. (A huge amount of “designer” leather products are produced in the slum.)

goat with admirersWe would turn a corner and it would be a completely different world. From the color of the buildings to the smells of the food, even the energy of the different quarters was different.


A large percent of textiles in India come from the slum

If you’re looking for a way to see real India, and to have a trip that is as educational as it is inspirational, this is a great one. Tawny and I were really impressed by the responsibility and sustainability of the tours along with how rock solid the guides were. This was also a great chance to get out of the chaos of Mumbai. Ironic, I know.


Pottery is another major product of Dharavi

If you’re looking for something to do in India, and especially in Mumbai, we’d give this tour our full endorsement.  It’s one way to experience what daily life is like in an Indian slum.


*For courtesy reasons we did not take pictures while on the slum tour.  All photos are courtesy of RealityTours

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  1. Alexis
    January 31, 2013 at 3:13 am - Reply

    These tours sound great and I actually like the idea of their no photo policy too. If I ever make it over to India, I´d definitely check this out.
    Alexis recently posted…sevilla: where people dance in the streetMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      January 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      The tour was one of our most memorable experiences in India. We’d definitely recommend it!

  2. Kent @ NVR
    January 31, 2013 at 6:45 am - Reply

    We want to talk more about India!

    • Captain & Clark
      January 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

      Don’t you worry. I stayed up last night writing a long post about India. It should be up soon 🙂

  3. Colleen Brynn
    January 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I definitely respect not taking photos on a tour like this. It’s so personal seeing the way people live in slums.
    I am thinking about visiting India next year… I will definitely keep this tour group on my radar.
    Colleen Brynn recently posted…I Could Totally Live In… Montreal, CanadaMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      January 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      It was a very eye opening experience. We were able to learn so much and enjoyed our local guide. Definitely look into it if you head to Mumbai.

  4. kat
    January 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    You guys have an awesome website and it is great seeing other couple adventurers!
    kat recently posted…Buying Fuel Sucks and RV’s Suck FuelMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      January 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much! I don’t think we’ve met you, Kat. Are you working with Jason and Nikki?

  5. Kristin of Be My Travel Muse
    February 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Where does the money for the tour go? Glad to see you didn’t take photos out of respect. I like that 🙂 Sounds like an amazing experience — one I’d like to have as well.

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Hi Kristin! The money for the tour goes back into the community. The local guides get 20% and the rest goes back into developing sustainable programs for the community. It was an incredible opportunity.

  6. Mike
    February 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Tastefully done post. We had the same challenge touring the Soweto in SA. You want to share the powerful experience with others yet you want to be respectful. You guys struck a great balance. Happy travels!
    Mike recently posted…A Couple’s Survival Guide To Long-Term TravelMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks guys, that’s so good to hear! We weren’t sure how to approach the subject but it was something we just had to shed light on.

  7. Drive Away Local
    February 1, 2013 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    This is the first time I have read a post where they have shown Dharavi in such a positive light! Really remarkable, you guys! I am from India and sadly we as Indians are ashamed of this “large filthy slum”. This post was an eye-opener. There really is something good behind everything. You just need that vision to see it.

    Big Thanks!
    -Sophie =)

    P.S If this post was so much full of awesome, I wonder how amazing your other posts on India would be! *Excited*

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      We’re so glad that you liked the post, Sophie. We had no idea what to expect on the tour, but we learned so much and were so glad we decided to do it. We’ll definitely have more India content coming up. Stay tuned 🙂

      • Get A Car Hire
        February 5, 2013 at 11:46 pm - Reply

        Hi guys,

        May I know the reason for changing the name of my comment? I mean I understand that you wouldn’t want to give any links to commercial websites but at least you could have kept my name with a link or just Get A Car Hire with no link.

        I was just hurt to see this nonsensical name with my comment! 🙁

        Sorry if this sounds rude.

        • Captain & Clark
          February 6, 2013 at 12:03 am - Reply

          To which comment were you referring to? We have to sift through a lot of spam to ensure that only real comments from real people come through. We try to avoid publishing comments that are fabricated for the sole purpose of providing links to commercial sites. While we really appreciate all of your input, and will leave your company’s name in this time, it might be more appropriate to write from a more personal perspective. We’re sorry if we hurt your feelings in any way.

  8. Matthew Karsten
    February 3, 2013 at 6:20 am - Reply

    Interesting. Not sure I could handle the no-photo policy though. It’s easy enough to ask people for their portrait, no? Obviously the company has hired a photographer to go out and do just that in regards to the photos they gave you.

    Maybe this helps avoid snap-happy visitors who are afraid to (or don’t think to) ask for permission?

    Fascinating experience nonetheless!
    Matthew Karsten recently posted…Castaway Island Paradise [PHOTO]My Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      It was a tough call. We are rarely without our cameras and desperately wanted to capture the feel of the experience. In the end, we’re glad we didn’t. We didn’t want to intrude on their lives or make people uncomfortable in their own homes. I think it’s possible to enter the slum on your own to capture photos or footage. We did see a young man doing just that but I don’t think he asked for permission. It’s definitely a fine line.

  9. John
    February 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    This is both fascinating and tragic, to see the way many people are forced to live. This tour seems like its well worth it. Thanks for sharing.
    John recently posted…North American Air Travel: Get CreativeMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      You’re so right. It was an eye opening experience. It was fascinating to see how people live in the slum and make it work. We often take so much for granted!

  10. Gerard ~ GQ trippin
    February 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    What a great tour guys. It would kill me too not being able to capture that experience. But good on you for actually doing it because many people would be scared to even fathom the idea of visiting the slums.
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin recently posted…Our Worst in FoodMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      I admit, I wasn’t sold on it when I heard the idea but it was worth every step.

    • Captain & Clark
      February 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gerard. It was a remarkable experience. Everyone for the most part was very friendly and we’re glad we got to learn more about life in the slums.

  11. Pola (@jettingaround)
    February 6, 2013 at 12:42 am - Reply

    How awesome that you guys went SO off the beaten path. Great, insightful post into that side of India. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted…Photo Focus: San Diego BayMy Profile

    • Captain & Clark
      February 6, 2013 at 12:52 am - Reply

      It was worth every step. For Captain, it really defined the trip.

  12. Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter)
    February 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Great experience, guys. Travel is most powerful when we leave the “fun & luxurious” and go to the edge of our comfort zone. I witnessed analogous things in rural remote areas of Tanzania and Peru, where tourists rarely go and those are among my most treasured travel memories, more than (or at least different than) fancy dining in Paris or fancy tours of Italian towns. I am VERY glad you had this amazing and unique experience.
    Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted…Preparing to Hike Mt. Kilimanjaro: More than Training & GearMy Profile

  13. Traveling Ted
    February 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I recently saw a Nat Geo show on leopards in Mumbai. I guess there is a lot of green space in Mumbai and the leopards were seen inside the slums sometimes attacking people. Not sure if it was this one.

    Anyways, very interesting post and information about the slums of India. If they call one slum a good slum, then the bad ones must really be bad. Interesting to note there is a quantifiable or qualitative difference between one slum and the next.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…5 Lesser Known Asia adventuresMy Profile

  14. the lazy travelers
    February 7, 2013 at 11:40 am - Reply

    always appreciate travelers who are able to draw the line between when it’s appropriate to take photos and when you should put the camera away. thanks for sharing this experience!
    the lazy travelers recently posted…hungary in new york: our dinner at andre’sMy Profile

  15. Leah Travels
    February 9, 2013 at 5:50 am - Reply

    I very much love this post and want to visit. When I was in Rio I wanted to visit a favella, but ran out of time. I’m totally adding this to my must do things when I finally get to India.
    Leah Travels recently posted…Dublin, Ireland: Favorites of @FionaHilliardMy Profile

  16. The World Wanderer
    February 9, 2013 at 6:27 am - Reply

    What an incredible experience. This is something I would love to do, and actually, I love the idea of no photos. It probably also gives the visitor a more authentic experience. Great post!
    The World Wanderer recently posted…Cocktails Around the World.My Profile

  17. D.J. - The World of Deej
    February 10, 2013 at 5:22 am - Reply

    Eye-opening stuff… Hard to believe there’s such a thing as a 5 Star Slum.
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted…Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island – Picture of the WeekMy Profile

  18. lola
    February 12, 2013 at 4:41 am - Reply

    i think it’s very important to see what is reality in a place. even though you didn’t take the photos, i really love them. especially the children! my sister is moving to India in August – so guess where i’ll be going?!?!
    lola recently posted…the dirty dozen – best posts of 2012My Profile

  19. Charu
    February 19, 2013 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Glad to see a “no photos allowed” policy–India’s slums are a disgrace to the country and hope something can be done. But with enormous levels of corruption, there’s little that reaches those who really need it.
    Charu recently posted…Custom Blending Your Own Wine in Sonoma ValleyMy Profile

  20. Phil Done
    February 22, 2013 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Beautiful photos! I was in the big slum in Mumbai. Touching. Thanks for your post. I look forward to reading more.
    Kind Regards,
    Phil Done

  21. Trudy
    February 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    This was so interesting, it reminded me so much of Shantaram which I’m sure you guys have read. After reading that it really gives you a different idea of what the slums are like, I would love to visit but didn’t know they did tours, thanks for the article!
    Trudy recently posted…How To Get A Taxi In Bangkok – Basic TipsMy Profile

  22. Prof Swapan Garain
    April 24, 2015 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Mumbai is our home, a city full of life and opportunities. We at “Slum Rehabilitation Society” work towards providing quality of life to the urban poor through housing and welfare activities. We help slum dwellers to move into apartments and also provide health care, skill training, livelihood, child care, senior citizen services, sanitation facility, etc. through our welfare centers spread across the city’s slums. Volunteer for us, donate fund, and help us to do more. Welcome to contact us at SRSIndia.Chair@gmail.com or visit us http://www.srsindia.org

  23. Reddy
    June 2, 2015 at 8:36 am - Reply

    I don’t know about Mumbai but Hyderabad’s slums in the old city definitely do not have a friendly or safe atmosphere. In Dhoolpet; every other corner someone is either selling drugs or illegal alcohol and there’s at least one murder a day. That’s just a small section of the Purana Sheher, which is notoriously crime riddled and violent. I don’t know what’s wrong with the people in Mumbai, why is there no crime? Why aren’t people angry? If I had to share a toilet with 50,000 people I would be angry as hell. I tell you, if there is no civil disobedience by the suppressed and economically disadvantaged then you will never see any improvement because right now keeping these people dirt poor benefits the ultra rich in charge and if no one makes any trouble it won’t bother anyone to stop these people suffering. It must be the water, heavy concentrations of fluoride or something that makes those residents subservient and docile.

    • Reddy
      June 2, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

      Especially when there’s a guy in the same city living in a billion dollar 27 story mansion, absolutely horrifying sense of morality. All these rich, fat elitists lack any kind of empathy and would gladly stuff their face staring in the eyes of a starving child. But what if those starving children frequently vandalized their property, robbed their staff, assaulted their guards, invaded their houses and stole their goods? Instead of begging, what if the norm was mugging and robbing? What if people were scared to even step foot in a slum for fear of being stabbed and robbed? If that were the case then would I GUARANTEE change. The rich will never respect the poor, but at least now they will fear. Politicians and the corporate elite will be forced to develop these sections of the city and subsidize public housing rather than embezzling the money for themselves.

  24. Pooja
    August 27, 2015 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing mumbai slum area story. i am from india but i don’t know all things about Dharavi which you mentioned above

  25. Anna Shaw
    December 8, 2015 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Only spoiled Millennials would think to need a “Tour” of a slum.

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