Thursday, 20 December 2012

Phir Milenge India! My last day - Mumbai

20th December 2012 - Mumbai

The journey to Mumbai from Goa was 12hrs on a sleeper bus, this time it was an actual sleeper bus with beds, so I managed to sleep a little but as I was on the top bunk, it was very rocky so I couldn't sleep much. Halfway through the journey though I changed to the other bunk which was a double rather than a single so I got a little more sleep!

Got to Mumbai at 7am and got a taxi to the hostel I'd booked. However the taxi driver wanted to charge me a fortune because apparently it was 'over an hour' away. Managed to prove him wrong and dwindle the price down a bit, however he ended up dropping me at the wrong place (there are two hotels of the same name it turns out). So I got this hotel to take me to my actual hostel, which they kindly did free of charge.

I turned up around 9am, checked in and within 5mins of walking through the door I'd been introduced to around 5 people! Everyone at the hostel was really nice and helped make plans for my day in Mumbai. By the time I'd showered and got myself sorted it was almost lunchtime so me and two of the guys, 1 Ozzie and 1 American, decided to go for a walk down the road to find a local restaurant. We spent the next hour or so getting to know each other and as they had only just arrived in India I was their source of knowledge for all things 'travelling India' so we spent a good amount of time just chatting and eating the foods I'd suggested they try (I had a Daal Makhani). It felt good being able to advise people on India, however it made me even more sad knowing I would soon be leaving this wonderful country and ending my Indian Adventure, while others had only just started their journey. We then took a walk back in the opposite direction, hoping it would just be a turn about the block and lead us back to our hostel...however this was not the case, I should have known, this is India after all and not a developed country where streets make sense! In the end we ended up with an hours detour but got to see some of the 'real' Mumbai street life in the process.

When we got back I decided to book a tour of the slums with two of the other group, a guy and a girl. I took a rickshaw to what was meant to be the train station, however he ended up dropping me at a taxi ramp so I just ended up grabbing one to the station I needed to get to for the tour, as I was running late anyway. When I got to the station I ended up going to the wrong side and so this cute middle aged man, with really good English for a slum native, helped me find where I needed to go, bringing his little goat with him!!

I met the others and our guide took us over the bridge to the slum we were to visit. Our guide himself was from the slums and he spoke amazing English and looked no older than high school age! In case you were wondering, all the money towards the tour was put back into the community to help fund the businesses, schools and education in the slums. The slum we were visiting was Dharavi, one of the largest but most productive slums in India, it holds over a million people in it's narrow streets. It was with Reality Tours, who also run a project in the slum, Reality Gives, to help educate and provide for, not only the children, but men and women too. They have computers to help with homework and C.V's for jobs, plus hold sports classes, social meets and English language support, as well as community projects and even a 3-times weekly dance class held by a girl from Canada! So it was good to know that we were giving back to the community. But as our guide told us, the slums welcome visitors, because they are so proud of their 'community spirit' in the slums, they want westerners to know that they don't just represent poverty, they want us to see first hand what living in a slum really means; and that's community spirit, pride, jobs, friendship, growth, purpose and determination. In fact their community spirit is so strong, the government built them flats to re-house the ever growing slum population, but the entire community refused to move from their slum-homes, because, going 'up' in the world and moving away was actually looked down upon by members of their community. So they all decided to stay where they are and the flats are still only used by very few people.

We were told not to take photo's while inside but we were allowed to on the outside before we came in. Our guide took us to many areas within the slum including the recycling factory; where most of India's trash comes to and is crushed down to flakes for re-use, the pottery-making area, an embroidery area where clothes are made and sold, a bakery, soap factory, leather tanning area, and even showed us some women making poppadom's the traditional way - rolling, flattening and leaving them to dry on wicker baskets in the courtyards! It really hit home that these people weren't just 'poor' they were really trying to make a living for themselves, even though they only get paid no more than £3 a day, they were proud of this! And many of the things and food produced in this slum are actually sold worldwide - as far away as China, England and the USA! Again the people were so friendly, and one frail old woman (she looked around 90 yrs old), came up to me at the end and shook my hand, kissed my cheek and gave me the biggest smile ever! I'm not sure why...

At the recycle factory we went onto the rooftops of the slums where you could see for miles, including the flats where they tried to rehouse people, the city skyline and the hundreds and hundreds of slum roofs - literally a sea of tin! He took us through some of the narrow alleys and streets, through the main market area, and finally the building where Reality Gives houses it's projects, including a small art gallery for budding slum artists and photographers. 

It really was an eye-opener, and not at all the kind of thing I expected. I expected to come away disheartened at the poverty stricken slums. But actually, I came away with a true sense of community spirit and happiness, knowing that these people chose to stay where they are and are actually making a living for themselves and bettering themselves. Yes the living conditions are horrendous, yes they get paid nothing for a full day (12hrs) work, yes there is a lot of diseases and hardships, and yes there are probably many slums around other than Dharavi that are worse off. But, if you look a little closer, you can see and feel the heartbeat of a slum, the spirit, the determination that keeps it going. It beats as one unit, one helping another, helping a million, helping produce for the world. 

After our tour we went back to the hostel via a very real and very packed Mumbai train - trust me, you haven't experienced Mumbai if you haven't ridden a train in the city! It was packed like sardines, and I even had a go at hanging out the door like they do, as encouraged by a Mumbai city-goer - 'You have to try, it's a unique Mumbai experience!'. 

We then had a traffic-ridden rickshaw ride from the station to the hostel, which again is a Mumbai experience - traffic here is unreal, it makes the M25 look like a fake! We freshened up and were introduced to some new hostel guests and so we all went out for a meal at a local restaurant recommended by the owner of the hostel. We all chatted, got to know each other and then sat around in the hostel doing the same thing until it got late. 

I still couldn't believe this was my last day/night in India, I'd had such an amazing time I really didn't want to leave. But fear not India, in the words of the Terminator...I'll be back! And next time it will be for longer! 

Phir Milenge India! (we shall meet again)

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