Do you enjoy getting under the skin of the place you visit and experience it the way locals do? Mumbai now offers a chance to do that by staying in a slum in the heart of the city.
Ravi Sansi has thrown open the doors of his one-room home in a slum in Golibar Road in Khar East, where he stays with 16 family members. Guests will be put up in a converted loft with a single mattress, an air conditioner and a flat screen television. However, the toilet is shared and outside the house. If guests want to eat in his home, his family will rustle up a meal or they can dine at restaurants nearby. The cost: Rs. 2000 a night.
The unusual initiative was born after a Dutch traveller, David Bijl, happened to stay at Ravi Sansi’s home for a night when he was stuck in bad traffic. “That’s when the idea struck me,” he told Lonely Planet News. “Most people know that slums exist. They’ve seen it in movies, read about it in books, but they don’t know what it is like to live here, and even if they do, it’s one-sided. It doesn’t match with reality.”
Ravi Sansi is a worker at a factory where the NGO for which David works produces cooking stoves. He was a bit hesitant thinking that tourists would not want to stay in a slum. But David Bijl explained that many travellers enjoy interaction with the local community, which does not happen when their experience is restricted to known tourist spots.
David Bijl feels that the slum stay will appeal to people who travel to learn something. “Of course it is not easy to live here and that’s not something that we are trying to hide either. But if you want to understand India, then you need to understand the slum as well,” he adds.
Ravi Sansi’s rudimentary knowledge of English will help him communicate with the guests while David Bijl will take care of the bookings through their Facebook page.
Foreign visitors are no strangers to Mumbai’s vast slums. Walking tours of Dharavi, the city’s biggest slum, have become popular with tourists who get to see that although living conditions may be tough in a slum, it is also a vibrant community of hardworking and honest people. Beata Pych from Europe, who has spent some time in Mumbai says a walking tour of Dharavi was the most interesting experience of her stay in the city. She says, “you can actually see the society – how it looks like, works and functions from inside.”
In Mumbai, 60% of the population lives in slums, many of them migrants who come looking for work opportunities in India’s financial capital.