India is a world of contrasts, many colors, extreme richness, but also extreme poverty. That’s how books and TV programs describe it and what I have had in mind when I started to plan my first days in Mumbai. It’s Wednesday. Take-off day. Take-off to Mumbai where I will spend three days of my own before joining the rest of my travel group and going to rural parts.
By the way, I am just arrived in Dubai and I am waiting for the connection flight. Mumbai is just a few hours away. I still cannot believe it. The last days have passed by like chewing gum…
But coming back to the Indian colors and contrasts – I think it is mainly these elements that – since years now- have attracted my attention and raised curiosity. I want to go and see it all. I want to listen and see how people make their day – in all social environments. Also people living in slums.
A moral-driven problem?
Voilá: there is the first moral-driven problem. Is it ok to visit Dharavi, one of the largest slums of the world as a “tourist”? Watching the people, the dirt, the poverty, illness and illiteracy as the “visitor on tour” from the rich world equipped with iPhone and Nikon camera, possibly in a whole group wearing the same shirts or waving flags? Nearly every tourist agency offers Dharavi tours in groups, 1 hour, two hours, half day, see the best places… The best places in a slum? Impossible. Unthinkable. No, I won’t join one of these groups.
I could do it on my own. Just going there. “Too dangerous, you are crazy. Not as a woman! “, say my friends. They might be right, I have no clue. I do not know how to move there, I do not speak their language.
I have googled “responsible tourism in Mumbai” looking for someone in this large city who respects local pride and creates confidence. Someone who offers personalized 1:1 tours. At the best an organization that improves additionally working conditions and involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances. And great if they provide me at the same time more enjoyable experiences through more meaningful connections with local people.
A trustful partner for a slum day
I found an interesting offer: it’s called Reality tours and travel. This organization has a clear vision: to break down the negative attitudes that many people have towards people from less developed communities – particularly the slums. Break with the stereotype thinking and show the ecosystem of such a community. When I went through their website I found a transparency page with details of directors’ salaries and audited financial statements. 80% of profit are used to support a sister NGO that helps underprivileged communities in Dharavi. They offer fair prices and go with a clear tips policy… And they have won a number of awards on sustainable travel offers.
Indeed: When I have booked my Dharavi excursion at this organization I was asked to give them an idea on what I am interested in and why I wanted to spend a day in the slums. Wow, I thought, good questions. But I was even more surprised when I got a personal detailed answer within a few hours. Containing some good proposals, all necessary data around meeting point and how to prepare for that day. Fair treatment included. I feel respected, as a visitor, as a human being interested in culture and people, not as the average tourist. Lunch can be taken together with the guide or also separately, depending on how I feel better to do. They did not try to sell me something extra. Once my bill was paid I got a confirmation (not standardized).
This service is impressive. Unexpected.
Remains just to see, if the guides are fun and humble as announced. Then it will become an unforgettable experience.
I trust. What they have offered so far is convincing. Friday I will see.
P.s. It is my fourth time at Dubai. But just being at the airport I feel blended again by this artificial luxury world. But this is another story… Now it is time to leave for Mumbai ✈️
Website: Realitytours and travel