Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mumbai Part I – Dhobi Ghat

About a month ago Paul and I dragged the kids to Mumbai for a long weekend. It was on our list of places to go and Paul had to go there for work, so we went three days earlier and did the sights. It would have been lovely to stay longer, so we could do the city justice but with school and work and life in general, three days was all we had. We knew there was a lot to see and do in Mumbai and we had no prayer of figuring it all out in three days, so we hired a guide to help us see as much as possible.

Mumbai is quite a ways from Delhi, so we flew. We have flown on our last three trips in India and have had good experiences so far. The flight to Mumbai was two hours, so it wasn’t too bad. We stayed at Hotel Svenska, in Andheri, one of the suburbs, which was not ideal because it was quite far from the touristy areas but the hotel itself was nice and the service pretty decent.

Mumbai is a huge city – about 20 million - the size of Delhi or a little larger/smaller depending on who you ask and how they count. It feels big and crowded. It started out as a fishing village, which got its name from the Goddess Mumba Devi. Then the Portuguese came and called it Bombay (good bay) and eventually became a large trading port. It’s a fascinating mixture of the local Marathi plus the imported Muslim, Parsee (Zoroastrian), Christian and even Jewish cultures. It has dizzying shiny skyscrapers and crowded slums, beautiful beachside walkways and alleys you wouldn’t want to walk down because you never know what’s lurking down them, gorgeous hotels and dilapidated fishermen’s shacks. It’s a city of contrasts and surprises, which draws you in and begs to be explored.

We spent our first day mostly in Colaba (the touristy downtown area at the southernmost edge of the city) and Dhobi Ghat (a washermen’s settlement). We ate Persian food at Khyber and then relaxed at the hotel. The second day was more or less dedicated to Bollywood – we went to a couple of studios and got to see a soap opera filmed in one and played voice-over actors in the other, then checked out the beaches of Juhu and Bandra as well as the homes of some famous Bollywood stars (from outside). The more we saw, the more we liked Mumbai. By the end of our trip, we all decided that we could live there, if the opportunity presented itself.

The first place we visited was Dhobi Ghat. It’s a washermen’s community, where about 4000 – 5000 people live and work. Paul and I had seen similar communities in Delhi and kinda knew how they work. We had also seen the critically acclaimed 2011 movie Dhobi Ghat (also known as Mumbai Diaries) in which one of the main characters is a washerman and and lives/works in that community. Our guide arranged for us to go inside the community and we got a chance to talk to the washermen and hear some of their stories. They charge tourists a small fee (about $1) and use the money to provide daycare and some schooling to the kids in the community, of which there were quite a few. Chutney took a nap in his stroller while we were there, so we were able to take quite a few pictures. Here are some of them:

Bales of clothes waiting to be washed


One of the “offices”


Beating the dirt out of the clothes


A little helper amid a pile of old sarees, which will be resold for a dollar or two or upcycled into “new” clothes.


Sarees drying on a roof


And a lot more waiting to be washed under the roof


But it’s not just old clothes that get washed here - new shirts destined for Europe or North America are also pre-washed/pre-shrunk here…




… as well as new dresses you may find at the Gap or Old Navy.


The new clothes are taken elsewhere to be ironed and packaged before being shipped overseas but the old clothes get ironed here using 100-year-old charcoal irons. There is electricity in the community but it’s expensive, so they use the old irons.


They’ve figured out a way to hang the clothes to dry without using clothes pins – another way to save money on the whole operation.


They also have a tagging system to ensure nothing gets lost.



This post is already getting quite long and picture heavy, so I am going to pause here but stay tuned for more pictures from Mumbai, as well as from our trip to Hyderabad and the colorful celebration of Holi in Delhi.


  1. Our good friends from our last post are headed to Mumbai next. I'm jealous! Love the insight on the washers, something that I hadn't even pictured in my mind but should know about.

  2. I love the photos! Amazing. What a cool family vacation!

  3. so fascinating...i don't think we realize where half of the things in our world come from. love the pictures!

  4. amazing photos, i am now so curious about that place.

  5. Wow, you have seen more places than I have in two and a half months of my stay in Mumbai! Great photos!


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