Dharavi Slum beats Taj Mahal: new frontiers in tourism

The NGO for which I volunteered in my year of social service is called Reality Gives and is majorly financed by the tour operator Reality Tours and Travel (80% of their profits go to support our projects).

Reality Gives was officially born 10 years ago but the idea behind it was conceived much before, thanks to the special encounter between an English tourist and a young Indian waiter. It comes from a common desire to destroy stereotypes and preconceptions against India, Mumbai, and Dharavi in particular - the largest slum in Asia. It is born from the idea that tourism is knowledge, understanding and above all encounter: between cultures, thoughts and feelings. It stems from the idea that "giving back" can be part of the concept of tourism.

Recently we got to know that Dharavi's Tour beats the Taj Mahal in the top list of the experiences to do in India, according to the travel site TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards. News certainly curious and that makes me think about the tourism practiced in the country. The beauty and architectural perfection of the Taj beaten by the famous slums of Mumbai? It does not surprise me.

What I noticed when talking to people who come here to India is the distinctive trait of the search for the true and authentic that this country can apparently give. And it does not surprise me to know that the new trend of "tourism of reality" comes to exceed that of the "classic". The news, however, also makes me doubt because, in my opinion, there is the risk of finding a lot of spectacularization and research behind the true and pure, sought after by tourists in India.

In the case of Dharavi in fact, in the last period, I happened to see several Indian films (Gully Boy and Chopsticks) that depicted tourists as children at the zoo, to photograph the inhabitants of the slum. This representation has certainly saddened me but unfortunately, I know that it can be part of reality. I was disappointed to think that even the Reality Tours and Travel project - which has a strict no-photography policy among other things - could be portrayed in this way but, on the other hand, it motivated me to do even more for this NGO, Reality Gives.

I thought that all the incredible stories of growth and education that I have the chance to hear from my colleagues and students are part of a project far from the romantic and theatrical vision of poverty. They are stories of personal challenges, incredibly intrinsic of a pedagogical and educational idea behind it.

Deconstructing stereotypes by showing the vital and entrepreneurial side of Dharavi also allows us to build beautiful life paths: this is what Reality Tours and Reality Gives do together.

And this is real.

(Photo: Mino Debnar, Reality Gives)

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