Experience the enthralling sights, sounds and smells of the hard-working Dhobi Ghat, a huge open-air laundry community. Stroll between washing pens and meet the dhobis (laundrymen) for the chance to see a slice of quintessential Mumbai and Indian culture. Dhobi Ghat dates back to 1890 and today is home to hundreds of dhobis and their families. Almost all of the dhobis learn the trade as an occupation passed down by generations of skilled workers. Preview this setting in the 2011 film Dhobi Ghat (or Mumbai Diaries).
A great place to appreciate the enormity of the community is from the flyover outside the nearby train station. Look down on the multitude of concrete washing pens, squeezed together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. See couriers carrying bags of clothing on their backs, on bicycles and on hand-pulled carts. The washermen serve the needs of individuals, hospitals, hotels and restaurants. Marvel at the fabrics that hang in a rainbow of colors from row upon row of washing lines.
Walk down the stairs to witness the action up-close. Watch as the dhobis stand in pools of water, soak the clothes and then thrash them on more than 700 flogging stones, sending soap suds swirling into the air. Then items are dropped into vats of starch before being hung to dry. Take a moment to reflect on how this apparent chaos is actually a remarkably efficient operation.
As you explore this curious community you’ll be able to peek inside the humble homes of its resident families. Spot groups of children coming and going from the school. Look and listen for temples including the Haji Daood Masjid and Santoshi Mata Mandir.
Dhobi Ghat is about a 25-minute drive from Colaba and Kala Ghada, two of Mumbai’s most popular coastal tourist areas. Get here via tuk-tuk or taxi or ride a train to Mahalaxmi station.
Visit Dhobi Ghat any day and pay a nominal donation. Hire a charismatic English-speaking guide for valuable inside information. Many workers are happy to engage in conversations and pose for photos, although you should be respectful of their privacy.