If you are no stranger to the missing socks mystery, you should check how the professionals deal with this dilemma. And I’m talking about people who NEVER lose their laundry, although they wash millions of pieces of clothing a week. By hand. In the open air. Standing in water!
I guess you have heard about dabbawalas – people in India who deliver lunch boxes. Every morning the boxes are collected from the customers’ homes and delivered to their offices. In the afternoon, the emptied boxes amazingly make their way back, each to the exact house of its owner.
But I bet you didn’t know that in Mumbai there’s a similar system of laundry service, operating 24/7. It is called Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, and it’s probably the world’s largest outdoor laundry. In fact, in 2011 the laundry was awarded the Guinness World Record for most people simultaneously hand-washing clothes in a single location at once.
It employs over 700 laundrymen (dhobis) who, with the help of their families, wash over
1,000,000 clothes per day. The pieces of clothing are shipped here from most of Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals as well as many private houses. All work is done by dhobis manually in concrete rows of wash-pens, each fitted with its own beating stone. Dhobis work 8-10 hours a day, having their feet submerged in polluted water. The boiling, bleaching, ironing and packing activities are also done on site, along with the washing. The maize of bed sheets, pants and saris makes it hard to believe that the clothes can ever find their owners again. And yet it moves!
Dhobi Ghat doubles as a place of residence for the dhobis and their families. For some of them, work in the ghat is considered a hereditary occupation, passed down from generation to generation since the 19th century. The adjacent shacks make home to an estimated 7,500 people, including children who are being raised amidst the ever-present moist air and aroma of washing chemicals.
Although Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat is an area protected by law from any form of private commercial development, its location, size, and proximity to the race course make it a real-deal property for developers. The uncertainty of tomorrow makes it even harder for the dhobis who already face the threat of eviction with little notice if they are late on their rent payments.
The place attracts tourists, who come here in search of a great snapshot opportunity. And they undoubtedly get it. Dhobi Ghat’s become an even more popular site to see since 2010’s release of the Bollywood blockbuster called Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). For some it is a number one attraction in Mumbai, others feel a bit intimidated by the harsh living and working conditions in the ghat, but for sure the place is simply beaming with energy and colors.
The easiest way to get there is from the nearby Mahalaxmi train station. First, get the big picture from the bridge over Dhobi Ghat then walk down, the entrance is easy to find. You will be approached by a local guide offering to take you around for some small fee. If you find it a bit awkward to openly peek into other people’s work you might just steal a quick glimpse from the bridge without entering the ghat.
Tags: India, Mumbai,