An open-air Laundromat in Mumbai gave me the chance to see the hopes and dreams of the locals being hung out to dry!
A trip to India, and to a city as large of Mumbai no less, is never going to be easy. You will see lots of sights that you had probably wished to avoid, including pollution, poverty, and crime. However, it may come as a shock to you to realise that one of the top attractions for a tourist in Mumbai is Dhobi Ghat, where mass ranks of laundry being done in the open in specially made chambers. In fact the term “Dhobi Ghat” is a generic term for anywhere within India where laundry is performed, yet this famous one in Mumbai is located close to the train station at Mahalaxmi.
Dhobi Ghat here in Mumbai was built way back in 1890 and is actually owned by the council. The council rent the troughs to the workers on a monthly basis, who then earn money themselves by soliciting laundry from the city’s rich and famous.
Of course, the poverty here was among the most I had seen anywhere else during my travels in India, although the sense of community that the people of Dhobi Ghat exuded was also very inspirational in a way. The workers in the laundry pens were very enthusiastic about their cleaning (surprisingly) and most of them looked to be in good spirits. They are not slaves here obviously, but money is hard to come by in Mumbai, and the wages they earn for performing this work is minimal.
I kind of wondered how clean this laundry would be having just been washed in what I presume would be fairly dirty water (probably from a nearby river). It’s certainly not somewhere I would take my beach towels to be dry cleaned! I am told that linen and body overalls are brought here by local businesses and hotels for the locals to clean, so this is one of the reasons Dhobi Ghat became so famous and became a point of interest for tourists.
Dhobi Ghat is very popular with the foreign tourists, and myself included did enjoy experiencing “the world’s largest open air laundry”, but as with most things in Mumbai you do wonder about the conditions of the workers here. I took most of my photos from the flyover that leads to Mahalaxmi Station, but I also ventured into the labyrinth myself later on for a fee of 300 Rupees and I was able to get closer to the action. Unfortunately, as I don’t speak Marathi or any other intelligible Indian language, I was not able to converse with the laundry workers, and my ‘temporary’ guide kind of disappeared for a while, which I found quite scary. Incidentally, he reappeared some time later with a slip of paper highlighting some more tourist activities to take me to – and I politely decided to hang him out to dry with the sheets!
For some more information on the wonders of Dhobi Ghat, check out this blog from Ryan McKean.