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Responsible Travel

Camera Not OK Please: Why We Don’t Let You Take Photos On Our Slum Tours

Our very first tour of Dharavi was in January 2006; shortly after this, we introduced a ‘No Photography Policy’. Some press coverage had been critical of people going to Dharavi and taking photos, and when we saw the results, we agreed.

Over a decade on and the policy remains unchanged: guests on our educational slum tours are not permitted to take any photos for the entirety of their time with us. In a world where social media likes, shares, and retweets carry such clout, a ‘No Photography Policy’ might seem a bit outdated. Back this up with the old Indian adage that ‘the guest is God’, and the more recent marketing maxim that ‘the customer is always right’, and the policy might not only seem outdated but downright detrimental to our desire to grow our business.

Certainly, not being able to capture and share first-hand the vibrancy of the Dharavi, and Sanjay Colony slums may be a frustration for a minority of our guests. But whilst we want to exceed our guests expectations in every other way, there is another stakeholder group that takes precedence – the slum communities we serve… (more…)

What Would The Neighbours Say? A Study Into Community Perceptions Of Slum Tours In Dharavi

Slum tourism has become extremely popular in the 21st century, especially in Mumbai. With its escalating use, throughout media and existing scholarship slum tourism has generated a heated and critical debate especially concerning ethics and its so-called ‘voyeuristic’ nature. However, scholarly research on slum tourism remains limited and fragmented.

Reality Tours & Travel began, first and foremost, to serve the Dharavi Community. To bring people here to challenge the negative stereotypes they held about ‘slums’ and sensitise them to the multilayered, multifaceted cultures, communities and lives being played out in ‘Asia’s largest slum’. To turn the profits we made from taking these tours into tangible, positive change through our sister-NGO, Reality Gives. (more…)

Further Reading – Six Books To Help You Understand Slums

Salman Rushdie once wrote that “to understand just one life you have to swallow the world“. In Dharavi there’s an estimated one million lives. In Sanjay Colony, there’s a not inconsiderable 50,000.

As we try to convey on our educational tours, these communities are incredibly complex. Whilst the word ‘slum’ evokes a negative view (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition runs to ‘an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition‘) the reality is not so cut and dry. Yes, the challenging conditions show a lack of fairness in our societies and a failure of government  but there are also positive aspects; a strong sense of community, rents which make a rural urban migration possible and the potential for residence to play a part in shaping and moulding their environment.

Slums do not conform to a simplistic Dickensian definition of dirt, squalor and crime; neither should we assuage our sense of guilt at all that we have by romanticising the lives being played out there. The reality is it’s far more nuanced. To that end, here’s a few books straight from the Reality bookshelf which might help shape your understanding of what is an incredibly complex topic.

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What The Dabbawallahs Of Mumbai Can Teach The World About Sustainable Business

Freshly cooked dalokra, rice and roti are packed safely into a metal tiffin when the doorbell rings. A white capped dabbawallah is anxiously waiting for the lunchbox but he is sure to flash a smile before he speeds away on his bicycle.  At the local train station, he adds six more lunch boxes to a wooden plank that is hoisted onto his colleague’s head. It weighs 65 kilograms (143 pounds). Fighting the remainder of rush hour commuter traffic, the second dabbawallah steps into the luggage compartment of a Mumbai local, sets his cargo on the ground with the help of two colleagues and chats idly as the train pulls out of the station.
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Five TED Talks We Love, And Why We Love Them

Since 1984 ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’ (more commonly known the world over as ‘TED’) have been sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’ relating to all things, from education to business, science to development. In the last 30 years, they’ve shared over 2,400 talks in more than 100 languages which have been viewed 500 million times.

These talks are a regular source of ideas, information and inspiration here in the Reality Group office – here are a few we love, and why we love them. (more…)

Is There A Right Way To Respond To Begging?

Mumbai, a city of over eighteen million people, is home to an estimated 300,000 ‘beggars’, people who survive by asking others for money or food in public spaces. Many are children, female or the elderly. A large number are physically maimed. From the bona fide Mumbaikar to the tourist in India for the first time, having to come face to face with this side of the city on a daily basis can, and should, be a cause of great distress, concern and reflection. (more…)

Useful Apps To Help You Make The Most Of Your Trip To India

India is a vast and vibrant country with endless experiences available wherever you look and a culture that is truly unique. Many travelers flock to this birthplace of spirituality, home of mouth-watering cuisine and endless geographical beauty.

However, with so much to experience and such a different way of life to the one visitors are used to, many tourists struggle to navigate the frantic, occasionally over-crowded and somewhat stuffy life that mother India has to offer them. Fortunately, using these five apps can significantly improve your time spent in this wonderful country and help you get around easily and problem free. (more…)

How Seneca Can Prepare You For India

India will not be what you expect. You will meet people that are friendlier and more generous than you ever thought possible. You will taste foods so delicious you’ll begin to wonder why Indian food isn’t everyone’s favourite. You will see sights so beautiful that they will remain embedded in your memory for the rest of your life. But you’ll also have to overcome challenges so great that many travellers write off India entirely. Logistically, you will face a myriad of transportation issues. Culturally, you will have some of your most basic assumptions about life and society come into question. And throughout your visit, a thousand and one things will threaten to make you sick. Your time in India will be uncomfortable in one way or another, but these challenges and the beautiful moments that inevitably follow are precisely why we travel: to get out of our comfort zone, challenge ourselves and broaden our worldview. Recognizing this goal and preparing yourself for the challenges that you will inevitably face can dramatically improve how much you enjoy your trip. The first century Stoic philosopher, Seneca, is the unlikely guide to the importance of mentally preparing for your trip. (more…)

Celebrating 10 Years in Dharavi

On January 4, 2016 Reality Tours and Travel celebrated 10 years of working in Dharavi. To mark the occasion, we’ve created a video that looks at the different ways in which we have impacted some of the lives of the tens of thousands of people who have been a part of our story.

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Dharavi: A Micro City Within A City

Suraj, one of our senior guides, recently wrote an article about Dharavi for the German magazine, Masala, a publication that aims to build an intercultural bridge from India to Germany.


What is a slum?

Overview of Dharavi
Overview of Dharavi

I have met many people from all around Mumbai and the world and when I ask them this question, 90 per cent of the time I hear something related to poverty, crime and drugs. I won’t say all of this is false. It may be true for slums in other places but not where I’m from. (more…)

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