Home to over a million people coexisting amidst half-assed infrastructure, the Dharavi slum in Mumbai is the biggest in Asia. And now, it’s become the favourite tourist destination for travellers coming to India, beating the iconic Taj Mahal to the punch, at least according to TripAdvisor, which bills itself as the “world's largest travel site.”
When it’s not being appropriated by the film industry, Dharavi plays host to tourists who want a whiff of what life is like for slum-dwellers in India. These are mostly small-group tours that walk you through the narrow alleyways of the slum and include ‘attractions’ that showcase the area as the hot business hub that it is, with pottery craftsmen and leather shops making appearances. And on June 20, TripAdvisor announced that these tours have made it to the top of the list of ‘Traveller’s Choice Experiences 2019 - India’, beating bike tours in Old Delhi and even the superfast train journey to Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. It has also featured on the Top 10 Asia list, bagging the 10th rank after the jungle swing in Ubud, Bali, and a biking tour in Tokyo. This was determined by an algorithm used by the website that took into account the reviews and popularity these destinations had with travellers over the last year, which means that while the tours wouldn’t really have brought in more numbers than the Taj sees annually (a whopping 7 to 8 million), Dharavi might be attracting more attention as a package destination to be booked online.
While these tours have become famous after being featured in films like the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and the more recent Gully Boy, many have questioned whether such tours of poverty-stricken areas are ethical since they can be reduced to a voyeuristic experience, where tourists are made to acknowledge their privileged existence at the cost of those less fortunate. Still, these visits are said to be sensitively conducted in a way that includes the locals in the area for max authenticity. However, this win comes amidst concerns that plans to redevelop the Dharavi slum into a skyscraper conclave will tear away at its social fabric and give property developers the upper hand.
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