When our taxi driver drops us off at a busy bridge over the western railway and near a roundabout as chaotic as you can expect in India, we wonder whether he has understood our wish to visit Dhobi Ghat at all. We walk to an opening in the guardrail to enter a viewing platform. There, at our feet, we see that we have arrived exactly where we wanted to go: wedged in between Mahalaxmi train station and skycrapers in the distance, the place that is dubbed the largest open-air laundromat of the world. We see hundreds of ropes between poles, from which shirts, jeans, linen and other garments are flying in the wind. With all the diversity of colours in the country, it is amazing to see a relatively low amount of colours: white and blue are the dominant colours.
The viewing platform is quite new, and even has informative plaques where the visitor can learn more about Dhobi Ghat. I especially like the "8 unknown things about Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat which you may not be knowing" sign. It tells me that the place exists for over 140 years, that dhobis are washermen, that the site works 18-20 hours a day, that the site has been the scene for various Bollywood movies, and that more than 100,000 pieces of clothes are washed every day. Looking down at the low-rise section of Mumbai again, we see people washing, but also cooking and eating, men carrying heavy loads of laundry to be washed, and kids running around. In fact, this is very much a family business, where sons follow in the footsteps of their fathers. The work seems to be done by men only.
It is time for a closer look, and we enter Dhobi Ghat at a sign commemorating a Guinness World Record established on 8 March 2011: 496 people hand-washing at a single location at the same time. Someone asks a ridiculous amount of money to enter, and shortly after we walk away, someone else quickly comes after us, agreeing with the price we proposed. We now walk past the concrete washing pens, under clothes hanging to dry, past whizzing laundry machines (not all laundry is done by hand), past pens filled with water where men are working to clean clothes. We learn that clothes are squeezed between double laundry lines, so no clothing pegs are needed. We enter dark corridors where men are ironing with heavy irons heated with burning coals. Our guide is not only mostly useless, but also pressed for time, forcing us to move on where we had wanted to linger longer. I manage to walk one of the many iron ladders to the top floor where I see a sea of laundry lines with linen flying in the wind. New loads of laundry are being lugged inside as we walk through a gate to a busy street. Dhobi Ghat is an almost non-stop operation of cleaning, drying, ironing, and sending laundry back to hospitals, hotels, and the many other organisations using its services.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat (India). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat. Read more about this site.