The rays from the morning sunrise are attempting to peak through the dense fog that covers the road before us. The bus driver just stopped briefly for a quick bathroom break for the 50+ travelers. The road between Mumbai and Dehli is long but well traveled. I love watching the sunrise and the early morning unravel like this simply because, as our bike tour guide the other day put it, you get to watch the world wake up.
I'm currently backpacking through India with some fellow volunteers from Kyrgyzstan. I apologize if you were hoping to read a post about KG, those will return in late January.
India has been nothing less than a colorful, flavorful, loud at times, peaceful at times, stressful and relaxing, laughing and dancing, sandy, eye opening experience so far and I'm only a little more than halfway through my trip.
There is one particular experience I'd alike to highlight: a tour of the slums in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay), India. I had certain expectations of the tour and, frankly, they were not met. I expected the people to be suffering, starving, unhappy, grasping for more in life to no avail. I found something I could have never anticipated.
We used a tour company named Reality Tours for our adventure in the slums. Our tour guide, Akash, is a resident of the slum we visited. This particular slum called "Dharavi" is located fairly centrally in Mumbai city and is the third largest slum in the world with one million inhabitants. First and second largest are located in Pakistan and Mexico city.
As we arrive in the slum I realize how rather orderly everything seems. There are shops (owned by the residents), taxis, children wearing school uniforms (Dharavi has 2 schools), various factories, brick and cement buildings, and the list goes on.
Possibly the most impressive facet of the slum to me was the industry the people had created. Many of the poorer people in India will collect trash and sift through it hopeful of finding something of value. In Dharavi the people sift through trash to find plastic and various metals including aluminum to break down, melt, and sell for reuse. Akash showed us the plastic factory where the people of Dharavi had constructed and built a plastic crusher machine and sell the plastic pellets it produces to contractors. The aluminum and other metals can be melted down and used to make flat sheets of metal for constructing machinery.
As we passed the industrial area of Dharavi we arrive in the residential part of the slum. Narrow alleyways between cement buildings made the residential portion a bit harder to navigate. Though the people of Dharavi are living in very in very cramped conditions with limited space, we were met by smiles from old women sitting on their door steps and young children wanting to practice their English with us.
While taking in the reality of the slums triumphing over all of our Western preconceived notions of a "slum", our guide pointed something out to us. "Have you guys been approached by many beggars in India?" "Oh boy..." We exclaimed. The truth was, our white skin and certain other preconceived notions had preceded us- mainly that all white people are rich. This notion caused us to be the main attraction for beggars and we are constantly approached regardless of where we are. Akash continued "have you been approached even once by a beggar or been made to feel guilty because you are a Westerner here in Dharavi " The answer was no. We had been in the slum for a few hours and had forgotten all about the beggars on India. The people of Dharavi work hard for what little they have and aren't looking for handouts.
The tour of the slums in India opened my eyes to something- in many cases, reality lies far below the surface. I thought I would see death in the slums but instead I saw blossoming, thriving, vivacious life.