Dharavi is a teeming and colorful neighborhood of serpentine lanes lined with artisan workshops, bazaars and temples. It’s the center of Mumbai’s small-scale industry, entrepreneurship and resourcefulness, a place to experience an unprecedented feeling of community spirit. Dharavi is famous as one of Asia’s largest shanty towns, yet it is a popular destination for curious tourists. Try to recognize sites that were used as filming locations for the 2008 blockbuster movie Slumdog Millionaire.
The most convenient way to visit Dharavi is via organized tours. Come in the morning to witness the streets waking from a deep sleep and becoming an animated village. Watch as worshippers move between the churches, temples and mosques and as market sellers set up their stalls. Listen as the sounds of morning prayers resonate from temples such as Arulmigu Ganesar Alayam, Haji Malang Baba Dargah and Hanuman Mandir.
Wander along narrow alleys and peek inside humble homes and chawls, which are traditional multilevel tenements. On 90 Feet Road and 60 Feet Road you’ll find a veritable showcase of Dharavi’s energetic lifestyle. Soap factories, leather shops and tanners stand amid bakeries, cafés, spice stores and fresh produce hawkers. Meanwhile, chai wallahs weave between frantic tuk-tuks and horn-tooting taxis to offer milky spiced tea.
Visit Kumbharwada pottery colony, established in the 1930s, to see a multi-generation families of artisans craft all types of pots from sundried clay. Marvel as women make poppadoms, crispy Indian snacks, by hanging them out to dry on overturned wooden baskets. Check out the neighborhood’s recycling area, where workers busily separate and recycle waste brought from all over the world. Climb onto a factory rooftop to appreciate the enormity of the neighborhood.
Dharavi is about a 30-minute drive from Mumbai’s tourist-friendly coastal districts of Colaba and Kala Ghoda. Get here by taking an affordable tuk-tuk or taxi. Alternatively, ride a train to Mahim Junction station, located on the eastern edge of the neighborhood. Several tour operators have offices in Dharavi and can arrange for an English-speaking guide to meet you at the train station.