For two and half weeks in November 2017, I took a trip to India that turned out to be one of the most incredible, heartwarming, often frustrating, and eye opening adventures I’ve ever experienced. I took thousands of photos to capture as many moments as possible and to help me share my story.
Then I wondered to myself, how on earth do I even begin to tell my story? How can I explain everything I saw? Because there so many amazing moments. The smiles on people’s faces when their lives were full of hardship. The frustration of being asked daily, on repeat, over and over ‘Ma’am, you want pashmina?’. The amusement of being shoved out of the way by a cow passing me on the street, YES a cow, for goodness sake! The look on the young boy’s face as I handed him a box containing a huge piece of chocolate cake, which was clearly so much better than anything he’d been rifling through the bin for moments earlier.
Where do I begin?
So I decided, the beginning. In Mumbai. On the Dharavi Slum Tour, guided by fabulous Mohammed. Friends of mine recommended Inside Mumbai Tours and having seen photos of their adventure with Mohammed, I contacted him and was so pleased when he replied saying he had availability to show my friend and I around his neighbourhood, Dharavi. We opted for a full day tour, which meant we had the comfort of a driver and an air conditioned car to take us to all of Mumbai’s top sights.
Mohammed arrived at our hotel reception on the day of our tour with his trademark big smile and his welcoming demeanour. We jumped in the car, exchanged hello’s with our driver, and were off in the direction of Dharavi, the third largest slum in the world, and where Mohammad’s family has been living for 52 years.
Having been to a slum in Medellin, Colombia I thought I might have some idea as to what it would look like. But it was much more eye opening than I could have possibly imagined. The sheer size of the place is something that shocked me to start with, and as we descended down some stairs into Dharavi, I was greeted with so many different moments all happening at once. Children running barefoot amongst the rubbish, roosters pecking at the rubbish, and people going about their day from workers to mothers with babies. The place is busy!
We wandered down alleyways whilst Mohammed explained to us about the various businesses that ran successfully inside the slum. We met factory workers, saw recycling plants, and pottery makers, we even visited a leather boutique.
As we walked further and further inside the labyrinth walls of the Dharavi slums, getting a glimpse of people’s homes – one room for sleeping, eating, cooking and rest that a whole family shares, we started to be greeted by so many sweet little faces. The local kids. And my goodness are they cute! Especially those in their school uniforms, that were dressed to perfection, looking every bit as smart as any private school kid does here in London.
One thing that stood out as we walked through Dharavi was the happiness of people. Smiling faces everywhere. It was the first time it dawned on me just how first world my life is, and everyone around me in UK or New Zealand. We want, want, want, and moan, moan, moan, and yet here I was witnessing happy people who lived with their whole family in a space smaller than my sitting room. I witnessed this exact same moment over and over again throughout my trip in India, and it definitely gets you thinking about what’s important in life.
Near the end of our tour through Dharavi, we stopped outside a house, which happened to be Mohammed’s family home. It was such a privilege to be invited inside, and to experience his world. It was there that Mohammed shared his story as to how a guy from Dharavi, who was destined to help his father with his shirt selling business, dreamed of a bigger life for himself. There was a moment in his life where, in my opinion, it felt like fate intervened, setting Mohammed on a path to live his dreams. He currently studies sociology at university, supporting himself through his tour business. His story is amazing, his tour is amazing, and I cannot recommend it enough. Please do yourself a favour if you’re in Mumbai and contact Mohammed, so he can share his fascinating world with you too.