WHAT IS 100’S OF YEARS OLD AND DONE WITHOUT TECHNOLOGY?
We decided to tour the Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai during our first full day in town. We hired a car and driver (coordinated by The Taj Hotel concierge) and set off for this historic site. I was speechless walking through this amazing (and thriving) business. The families living and working there are friendly, open and happy to share their story if you ask!
Here is a bit of history on the Ghats:
Mumbai’s oldest laundry hub, the 140-year-old Dhobi Ghat, is also the largest open-air space of its kind in the world. The thousands of laundrymen living here hand-wash clothes that arrive from all over the city. One can easily identify the spot outside Mahalaxmi Railway station from the colorful rows of drying clothes. Many visitors come to watch the strenuous process of hand-washing clothes in the age of washing machines. Though some in Dhobi Ghat have switched to using washing machines, hand-wash remains the primary choice of the majority here. Clothes are not only washed but also bleached, ironed and dispatched to their various destinations. Tourists are also intrigued by the laundrymen’s way of life. The location has even earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of washed clothes at a single location.
Dhobi Ghat is predominantly occupied by laundrymen and their families, many of whom stay in shanties nearby. Some families have been in the business for generations. A few are migrants from other parts of India. They earn a living and send money back home.
The shanties dotting this 2.47-acre UNESCO heritage site may soon become history, as developers aim to redevelop the area. Some like Omkar Developers have struck a deal with the locals to rebuild their houses adjoining the ghat.
The efforts to redevelop the area and build skyscrapers in place of the shanties and slums have been welcomed by the residents of Dhobi Ghat, who now aspire for a better life. However, all plans take care to ensure that the Ghat remains untouched. A walk through Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghat is a throwback to a different way of life, one that’s remained untouched by time and technology.
The accounts that these families take care of belong to them and are passed down through generations. The clothing, sheets and blankets are picked up by bicycle or cart and brought back to the Ghat. They are washed and hung on large, open lines above the cement tubs. Everything is done by hand. Once dry, the laundry is delivered back to the account/hotel/family. All records are kept “in their heads” and specific requests are done by memory.
Washers and Dryers are VERY expensive in this part of the world. Very, very few Ghat owners own them…..it’s SO interesting to see people washing by hand. We take this simple function (via washer) for granted! Right?! Brings everything into perspective.
Have you been to Mumbai (formerly Bombay)? Did you tour the Ghat? I cannot imagine running these accounts “in my head”….. we are SO spoiled by our constant access to technology!