The Dhobi Ghat: Asia’s Largest Outdoor Laundry

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

March, 2009

The Dhobi Ghat (washermen’s place), in the heart of Mumbai, is Asia’s largest open-air laundry.  Hundreds of people work and live here (mostly men), and clothes from all over Mumbai (for examples hotels) are bundled up and brought to this bustling laundry, where they are washed in large concrete troughs. Men can be seen scrubbing vigourously while soapy buds are flown into the air. Once washed, the clothes are dried and ironed, before being folded, bundled up, and taken back to their owners.

The area isn’t open to the public, so when I tried to enter it, I was stopped by a man who demanded 150 rupees and gave a speech about how the money goes towards maintenance.  I had no problem paying this (150 rupees is just over £2), especially since he also accompanied me around and explained how everything worked. So, essentially he was like a tour guide. I very much doubt any of the money he collects from tourists goes towards maintenance, after all, there was no official notice at the front about this, and he just put the money into his pocket. Then again, this is not exactly uncommon in India, although it doesn’t make it right.

I’ve also read that it’s not uncommon for tour companies to charge 800 rupees (around £12) for foreigners to visit the area.

Anyway, he started by explaining that the dhobi ghat was built by the British over a hundred years ago, and is used in the same way today as it was all that time ago.

Every item of clothing has  unique code identifying them:

In the drying room, the men explained the process of pressing and folding the clothes, which sounded more complicated than I had expected!

I came here during a quiet period which is why there wasn’t a huge amount of activity, but even so, there was quite a buzzing atmosphere. The dhobi ghat is an integral aspect of Mumbai, and provides many communities with jobs, even if they are paid what we in the West would consider a pittance.  It’s just one of the many places that makes this city so unique!

When I told people in India I’d visited the dhobi ghat, they laughed at me as they really didnt understand why anyone would want to go there. To me, this is far more interesting than any of the common sights that every single tourist visits.

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