The pace of work is breathtaking. Straddling an improvised saddle, a man paid
by the drum furiously beats aluminium cooking oil containers back into
shape. Textile manufacturers fight off buzzing flies as they prepare raw
leather hides, and poppadams bake in the streets on the back of overturned
baskets before being packaged for sale in supermarkets.
Much of this work is dangerous and dirty, but it is employment and income, a
lifeline denied many in this city of 14 million people, where countless
numbers survive on the streets.
Reality Tours was co-founded in January 2006 by Englishman Chris Way, who
settled in Mumbai after falling in love with the city while backpacking
around the world.
Back at Leopold’s next morning, Way, 34, explains how the company
redistributes tour profits to the community education centre and
kindergarten they have set up in Dharavi.
Before he and co-founder Krishna Pujari launched the tours, Way visited almost
every square inch of the slum, determining whether a tour could work.
“What impressed me was the spirit and the enterprise, despite the poverty,” he
recalls. “It’s a very subtle difference, but a real difference. Of course
there is poverty – open drains, small housing. It’s the way they overcome
these problems which impressed me.”
Certainly, Dharavi’s commercial focus is what makes this tour so interesting.
Way says few other slums share the district’s vigour. “The sense of spirit
you will find in lots of slums, but not the enterprise. That’s what makes
Reality Tours ploughs 80 per cent of the tour’s profits into their community
centre, after deducting wages. The remaining 20 per cent goes on repaying
bank loans and growing the company: they also offer tours of Mumbai’s
Crawford Market and overnight tours to villages on the mainland. The company
publish annual accounts on their website.
What did Dharavi’s residents think of Slumdog Millionaire? “People were angry
with the way they were represented,” says our guide Asif. The derogatory use
of dog caused controversy.
Way argues that the film showed slum dwellers in a largely negative light,
without any sense of the district’s spirit. “One simple shot of a wedding or
religious festival would show that Dharavi is generally a happy place,” he
In Mumbai, as in all Indian cities, there is no escaping the poverty. Street
kids bed down in gutters outside the five-star Taj Mahal hotel. Beggars are
everywhere. But as veteran BBC India correspondent Mark Tully said, “we
don’t have to cope with the poverty, the poor do”.
A tour around Dharavi shows that however awful circumstances appear, work,
wages and a sense of community can make even the most difficult of lives
Rio’s Rocinha favela
Wedged between mountains and the sea, Rio’s slums cling vertiginously to
cliffs in the immediate shadow of wealthy barrios. In few places on Earth is
the disparity between rich and poor so stark. Brazilian-born Marcelo
Armstrong promises favela tours that are beneficial to the community,
informative and non-voyeuristic. favelatour.com.br
Johannesburg’s Soweto townships
Soweto is South Africa’s biggest and most vibrant township, and following the
1976 Soweto uprising, was pivotal to black South African’s struggle for
freedom during the apartheid era. 16 years after the end of white rule,
Soweto remains poor, with the majority of residents living in old matchbox
houses. 480 rand, four hours. vhupo-tours.com
Jakata Hidden Tours
“Please wear sturdy shoes or sandals and not your best clothes,” recommends
Ronny Poluan, the former actor and film director offering tours of Jakata’s
Kampung Pulo slums, where conditions underfoot are the least of the
residents’ worries. Here you will discover soy bean cake and tofu factories
amidst the filth. A third of your $35 goes to local NGOs. jakartahiddentour.wordpress.com