Voyeuristic poverty tourism? Gawking at the misery of the underprivileged? If this is your idea of a Dharavi slum tour, then you're severely mistaken. Tours to Dharavi in Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia, have grown in popularity in recent years -- but for a very good reason. These tours dispel any notions that people may have of Dharavi being a place of misery, and are actually very inspiring.
As Be the Local Tours and Travel (a tour company comprised of local Dharavi residents, who offer slum tours) state on their website:
"If visitors are expecting extreme poverty and despair based on movie depictions, they will be disappointed. In fact this tour actively breaks stereotypical depictions of slums."
A friend of mine, a foreigner who lives in Mumbai, went on one of their Dharavi slum tours on the weekend. She had this to say about her experience:
"Dharavi is no different than any other part of Mumbai when it comes to dirt, muck, drug addiction, prostitution, domestic violence and mafia. But it is different when it comes to self-sustainable factories, scarcity mindset, safety and hospitality of the people. Namely, Dharavi has more of it in comparison to the other parts of Mumbai. If there was no Dharavi, Mumbai would be floating in garbage.
As a foreigner in Dharavi, I did not meet people who wanted to fleece me or who were judging my white skin. I met people who shared their chai with me during their work break. Dharavi is not about slums, it is not about Slumdog Millionaire, it is about perfectly functioning eco-friendly enterprises. It is not about poorism, it is about spreading the awareness and fighting the negative image Dharavi has.
And the question for Mumbai residents is not "Why would you go there?", but the exclamation is "You have to see this!". Hats off to Dharavi people and to the student-run tours. Go for it."
She also told me that she feels Dharavi is negatively labeled, especially amongst Indians, and that's the reason why it took her three years to do the Dharavi visit herself. Her Indian husband was very much against going to Dharavi as a "tourist" but it was a positive revelation for him too.
You can find out more information about the Dharavi tour on the Be the Local website. It's highly recommended. Do go!
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