Gallery: Touring the Dharavi slums

Gallery: Touring the Dharavi slums

CNNGo reader Erin D Yard tours Dharavi, the most famous slum in the world, and captures the 'richness' of this poverty stricken community in their day to day lives

When people think of residents of a slum several words may come to mind: dispossessed, dislocated, and disenfranchised. For the people of Dharavi, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Generally, the people of Dharavi are industrious, innovative, and inspired. A community where people lead rich lives in poverty.

You might know Dharavi from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire". In the movie Dharavi wasn’t exactly portrayed favorably. Dharavi appears like a filthy, sprawling shantytown. Not the kind of place you would want to visit while on holiday in Mumbai. But it should be.

Dharavi is the name given to an area of over 50 neighborhoods east of Mahim and Bandra. It’s estimated that these neighborhoods of Dharavi contribute anything from US$500 million to US$1 billion to Mumbai’s economy. In these slums you’ll find a variety of well documented, ingenious recycling programs as well as a thriving textile and tanning industry.

But what about their day to day life? This is what it really looks like.

Open air bucket bath.

In the early hours of the day you can see men and women getting ready. Because not everyone has the luxury of a bathroom or running water in their home, some residents lather up where they can.


Chai wala, tea vendor.

A young tea runner holds a set of glasses that will soon be full of Indian masala tea. Throughout the morning and rest of the day he’ll deliver tea to the local merchants and residents of Dharavi to keep them going. Tea is the people's fuel.


Green grocer.

Contrary to misconceptions of slum life, it’s easy to find an array of fresh fruits and vegetables on the main thoroughfare that bisects Dharavi.


Kajal eyes.

Kajal is a traditional eyeliner that can be seen on women and children throughout India. Some Kajal is still made from sandalwood, ghee and various other ingredients. It is believed to protect the eyes from the sun, act as a coolant and have Ayurvedic properties. 


Muslim shopkeeper.

The Hindu population accounts for about 70 percent of the population of Dharavi while the Muslim population is estimated to account for around 30 percent.



Most of the jobs in Dharavi are exhausting. The combination of heavy lifting and high temperatures can also make a worker rather fit, as is the case with these two young men.


Hi, Danny Boy?

A young boy pretends to be on the phone at one of the local shops. There never seems to be a shortage of children having a good time in Dharavi.


Mid-morning newspaper break.

This is a common scene in Dharavi, a civil worker taking a mid-morning break. Mumbai’s heat can certainly wear you down. 


Balancing act.

Women in saris make their way home balancing their purchases after shopping at the local market. This is a scene replayed in every market throughout India and looks graceful every time you see it.


Henna dyed beard on a Muslim man.

At first glance, seeing an elderly man with a brightly-colored beard might cause you to do a double-take, but many Muslim men in India and Pakistan color their beards with this natural dye.


School’s out!

Boys will be boys and these Dharavi boys are no different. These lads were playing a form of jacks after school. A majority of the schools in Dharavi have been set up by Indian and international NGOs.


A brother and sister.

A sister looks at her brother after he’s popped open the shutter to check on her, or maybe me, outside of their home.


Gully cricket in the tannery.

If you’ve been to India, you know the national pastime is cricket. All over the slums you can see children and adults going all out for a six in the narrow lanes. It's so popular it even has a name, gully (lane) cricket.


A cock fight amongst the hides.

Several boys try to catch a glimpse of a cockfight in the tannery section of the slums. Despite the stench of drying sheep hides and fleas biting at their ankles, men inside cheer on their favorite rooster.


Smoking a bidi.

Smoking bidis is a long-established daily ritual for many Indians. Despite having a significantly larger amount of nicotine and tar, bidis still account for nearly 50 percent of all tobacco sales.


Puff pastry baker.

If you have ever tried making puff pastry dough, you know how difficult it can be to get it just perfect. Now imagine doing it with India’s heat and humidity. This bakery in the middle of Dharavi makes delicious little puff pastry treats which are sold all over Mumbai. 


A mini marching band.

The increasing development of Dharavi has raised the political awareness of its people. Colorful musicians try to lure the locals into listening to a local politician running for election.


Please, let it fly, so high, direction sky.

With drying laundry and the façade of a dilapidated building behind him, a boy plays with a paper airplane late in the afternoon. In Dharavi, colorful scenes such as these are commonplace.


The Mudpie Gang.

Three young girls look down to see whether they have hit their target with their mudpies. Even traditional roles for boys and girls are changing in India!


Garment dyeing.

Late in the evening a man dyes a brightly colored fabric by hand in the garment district of the slums. Such an encounter is a reminder of the timelessness of such professions.

Several tour companies provide walking tours of Dharavi. The most reputable I found is Reality Tours, who also give a percentage of their profits back to the community through their Reality Gives organization.

Reality Tours: +91 (0) 98 2082 2253 (24 hour mobile and preferred number), +91 (0)22 2283 3872 (office);

About the author: Seven years ago, Erin D. Yard gave up a career as a chef in California to travel and teach in Asia. Somewhere between the rural rice fields of Japan and the ruins of Angkor Wat, he developed a passion for photojournalism. Although he continues to teach, he says he is "optimistic that his photography will one day pay the bills".

Erin submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page