Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A tour like no other!

Slums have often been looked down upon, a neglected part of the city. But these are also some of the most enterprising parts of our city. Dharavi, especially, is renowned for its many house industries. Lately, the focus of media and writers on this patch of the city has been helping in changing the perception about slums. A lot still needs to be done, to change the image of these places and also for bringing about a change in the lives of its residents. The negative perception can only be changed through educating people and what better way than taking them to ground zero. This is the aim of ‘Reality Toursand Travels’, they want you to witness first hand, the life in these slums; they want to wash your eyes off the perceptions that you were carrying for years and see these places in a new light. And while doing all this they also want to help the residents of these places, they want to help them lead a better life, a life that everyone dreams of when they land in Mumbai.

Reality Tours and Travel (RTT), a unique tour company, conducts educational tours through Dharavi with one and only one aim - to break down the negative perception that people have towards slums. RTT was started by Chris Way, who hails from UK. Chris is a student of Business and Hispanic Studies from Birmingham University and is also a part qualified Chartered Accountant. Chris first came to India in 2002 for four months of volunteer work at an organization serving slum children. Having previously experienced the benefits of tourism for local communities in Rio de Janeiro, Chris moved to India in 2004 to start a project that would lead to Reality Tours and Travel. Krishna, co-founder of RTT, hails from a small village in Karnataka. He moved to Mumbai at the young age of 13. His earlier years were spent working in restaurants and cafeterias. During this time Krishna also attended night schools. Krishna is the all-important link between RTT and their communities. The two are supported by an able team of guides who run the tours through Dharavi.

RTT runs many tours in Mumbai, these include the Dharavi tour, the market tour, bicycle tour and Mumbai by night tour. For complete list and details of their tours visit their website here. A large chunk of the profits earned from these tours, 80% to be precise, goes to the sister concern ‘Reality Gives’, which runs amongst other projects, a Community Centre, Youth Empowerment Program and English language support programs at municipal schools in Dharavi. RTT also offers village tours within Mumbai and beyond. The main objective of all these tours is to break the negative perception that people have about those from less developed communities like slums. The stereotype of an idle, criminal minded slum dweller is what they are striving to change.
A workshop in Dharavi
Initially they did find the going tough as not many slum dwellers were convinced of their plans. However with consistent persuasion and education they were able convince them about their genuine social responsibility and their plans to give back to the city. They fact that they have a no camera policy also helped in assuaging any doubts the residents had. Dharavi was an obvious choice for starting these tours. At that time it was the largest slum in Mumbai and even today it is one the most densely populated slums. However, what really set Dharavi apart was the huge economical potential; the recycling, leather and food production industries were all well established in this slum.
Another industry in Dharavi
 Slum tours are really popular and during peak seasons RTT gets 80 customers a day for these tours. One peculiar thing about their customers is that most of them are from countries like US, UK and Germany. Local customers constitute only 5% of their clientele. RTT has been trying hard to change this, but they have found it difficult to remove the inhibitions that locals have about slums. Although most of the locals who have taken this tour have come back with a changed perception towards slums, the local interest is still very low compared to that of foreign tourists. From the foreign tourist’s point of view, the movie Slum Dog Millionaire played a big role in creating huge interest in Dharavi. Overnight it became one of the key places in Mumbai that they wanted to visit. For foreign tourists, an eye-opening experience awaits. Most of them come here with preconceived notions about slums. However, what they experience is a totally different world altogether. Rather than the absolute poverty that they expect, they see a world of extremely enterprising people working in various small scale industries. It doesn’t turn out to be the godforsaken land that they had expected it to be. After a tour of Dharavi, many tourists have committed that they felt guilty going back to their five star hotels, such is the impact of Dharavi!
Reality Gives community center
Like we already mentioned, RTT is not just any tour company. Through its sister concern Reality Gives it’s working to bring a change in the lives of Dharavi’s residents. One of the key differences between Reality Gives and any other NGO is that they do not tell the slum dwellers what they need, but instead they listen to their needs and then design their programs accordingly. For the residents the key requirements were English and computer education for their kids. They realize that for their kids to lead a life better, these two things are extremely critical. In fact some families will go to the extent of spending 80% of their income on their kid’s education. Most of the families want their kids to attend English medium schools. Apart from these courses, Reality also runs extracurricular classes like arts class and sports program for the kids; as they felt that school education is not sufficient for all round development.

Reality Gives is continuously working towards new programs that will help in improving the life of these communities. They have partnered with many NGO’s in this quest. Some of the organizations they have partnered with are Foundation for Mother and Child Health and Under the Mango Tree.
Students from New York on a tour of Dharavi
 RTT’s vision is a world where people from under privileged communities have equal access to opportunities and resources. They support and mobilize resources to create change and improve quality of life in these communities. RTT has been run on one fundamental principle – Always listen to the people from whom you generate income and whom you impact through your business. It is their firm belief that everything one does should be accepted and confirmed by the stakeholders. For RTT the communities of Dharavi are their backbone, without whom running RTT would never be possible.
Picture from a youth development program
 RTT’s endeavours won’t stop here, they dream of venturing beyond the borders of Mumbai. RTT wants to go as far as it can in promoting ethical tourism in India. It wants to go as far as Reality Gives can expand its social welfare programs, not just for Dharavi but other communities as well. It will always be at the center of RTT, as it is where it was born, and it will continue to work to improve their programs for its residents. Their work in Dharavi has just begun; the path ahead is long and the destination far away. But this team is a motivated one and they are ready to scale any height to see their visions, dreams come alive. Everything that they do is to ensure that their most beautiful dreams for Dharavi will one day become a REALITY. “We have learnt a lot on this journey. If there is a will and strong belief with your plans people can achieve anything” – Team Reality.

You can visit Reality Tours and Travel website here.
You can check out their Facebook page here 


  1. Very nice post Swaraj....having been on these tours I think you have reflected their vision and mission very nicely. I also recommend Reality Tours to get underneath the skin of the city.

  2. Mr. Dhanjal, I really appreciate your hard work in this post. Its good to know about Dharavi.

  3. Thank you. We appreciate you leaving a nice comment for us. Thanks a lot. Looking forward to more comments from you.