Mumbai’s Dharavi ‘slum’ – not what you expect!


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Dharavi Slum Mumbai is surprising!

Its easy to see the things that aren’t so great about Mumbai’s 2,000 slums. And there’s definitely plenty of opportunities to improve workplace safety, sanitation and water supplies. However, these isssues are not unique to slums, they are shared by communities and countries throughout the world.

But if instead you go looking for all the good things in Dharavi, you might well be very surprised. The community shows great creativity and innovation, collaboration and co-operation, to make the most of a small space and enable many people to migrate to Mumbai from villages for work and opportunities, and to live together on land they don’t own.

And once you understand a bit more about Mumbai’s ‘slums’, it can look very different from first impressions.

Mumbai is the worlds most densely populated city. Dharavi has 1.5 million people per square kilometre. In Mumbai, the government owns more than half the land. Dwellings built on government land are legally owned, and have some services like electricity and some water, but are technically called ‘slums’ . In Mumbai, you are more likely than not be living on government land, and as such, living in a ‘slum’. That’s why people working in a wide range of jobs, including  professional people, often live in slums in Mumbai and why Mumbai has so many slums.

But houses are very small, really just one tiny room, with maybe just washing facilities for women. 1,500 people share each toilet, that is only cleaned about four times a month.

However, in Dharavi there are schools, hospitals, markets, banks , a cinema ( of sorts) and plenty of creative industry. And no begging or signs of poverty.

Clearly there are many challenges, but also many things to admire.

It reminded me of a mixture of an Australian beach camping ground with minimal shared facilities, crowded with families in January, with tents packed tightly together and everyone working in with each other to make a small space and basic facilities work for everyone. But it also reminded me of the retirement communities that are popular, where people buy a house, but don’t own the land, live in community and start up all sorts of clubs and co-operative groups in their ‘closed’ community to make life better for everyone.

The best way to see Dharavi for yourself is with Reality Tours & Travel. Not only is this their signature tour that started them off, but 80% of their profits support a Dharavi based NGO ‘Reality Gives‘.

(Photos provided by Reality Tours & Travel, as photography is not permitted on tours, for community privacy).


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Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai – a unique experience



A night at the Taj Mahal Palace heritage hotel, is more like a themed experience than just a night’s nice accommodation.  From the hope of a possible upgrade, to the showmanship of Viren, on the heritage tour of the hotel’s history, to just enjoying the ambiance of  a hotel with such an iconic place in Mumbai’s identity, it’s all great fun.



Also, the longer spent there, the more you find a genuine commitment to the personal needs of guests, which is truly lovely.

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The downsides are the significant cost and also a reluctance to leave the hotel and miss out on anything. It deserves full attention, so best timed after major sightseeing.

Rooms start at about $AUS 254 (Sat/Sun) for a city view in the newer Tower Wing.


While this might miss out on some of the atmosphere of the older historic Palace Wing (Luxury Grande Rooms start at $AUS 396 (Sat/Sun)for a city view), the older rooms are limited by the era in which they were built and are quite small.

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Club Room

Paying more for a sea view of the Gateway to India ($436 (Sat/Sun)for a Luxury Grande Sea View Room in the Palace Wing), might sound good, but there is no balcony or floor length window to really enjoy it.

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The best parts of the hotel i.e. delicious breakfast by the pool, heritage tour, colonial architecture, history, sense of style, pool and luxurious atmosphere can just as easily be enjoyed when staying in the cheaper rooms. The Taj is very well located for Colaba Eateries (Olympia Coffee House, Bademiya as well as Leopold’s Cafe and Indigo Deli if you’re looking for Western foods) and enjoying the surrounding heritage architecture close by, like the Gateway of India, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Dhunraj Mahal, Regal Cinema, Sailors Home (now Maharashtra Police Headquarters), Regal Cinema, Majestic Hotel, National Gallery of Modern Art, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly ‘Prince of Wales Museum’).

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If you do decide to lash out for a Palace Wing Room, consider paying a little more ($AUS475 Sat/Sun) for a city view Club Room (includes airport pickup) on a high floor, with not only Palace Lounge Privileges (all day tea/coffee and biscuits, but also Club Room privileges of  high tea 3:30-5:30pm, cocktails and hor d’oevres (6:30-8:00pm), cognac/Bailey’s/Kalua and chocolates (9:30-10:30pm), butler service, early check in (9:00am) and late check out (6:00pm – can just squeeze in one more high tea!). (See what I mean about, needing your full attention!).

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Make the most of the weekend (Sat/Sun) rate.

But a much cheaper alternative, to still get a sense of what all the fuss is about is to visit for a full, elaborate high tea (3:30-7pm) in the Sea Lounge  that includes Mumbai street food delicacies like bhel puri, sev puri, and pani puri (for about $AUS 27 per person).

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Ascot Hotel, Colaba, a top pick for sleeping in Mumbai


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The Ascot Hotel  is in a great central location in a leafy street in atmospheric Colada. The deluxe  rooms are very large, and at least some have a sunny balcony overlooking the daily life in the street below. Accommodation is expensive in Mumbai, so at around $AUS 152 including breakfast, the deluxe room is good value. (Superior room is about $AUS 138).

There are plenty of good eating spots nearby like, Kailash Parbat, Paradise Restaurant, Olympia Coffee House, Bademiya, as well as Theobroma for coffee, light snacks and cakes, and the Colaba Sweet Mart. The Ascost is also within walking distance of major sights like the Gateway to India, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Prince of Wales Museum. Other ‘must sees’ like Victoria Terminus, Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach, Sassoon Dock and  Mumbai High Court are only a short taxi ride away.

Staff are very helpful, friendly and personal. They do everything they can to help. Breakfast is ordered from a small menu but is nicely presented, tasty and more than you can eat.

The only downside to be aware of is that is can be noisy. But nevertheless, it’s a perfect base to go to and from, between sampling Mumbai’s many dining opportunities, enjoying the fine architecture  and exploring life in Mumbai.

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Deluxe Room 102

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