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South India 2015

As we began to plan our fourth trip to the subcontinent, we decided it was time to explore South India…

From Mumbai to Chennai via the southern tip of India: we visited Goa, some sites of Karnataka we had not seen before, toured the Western Ghats, got bored in Kerala before getting our fill of temples in Tamil Nadu.

Read on to learn how we fared along the road, what we saw, liked (and did not like).

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Path: Photos > The Dhobi Ghats of Mumbai
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The Dhobi Ghats of Mumbai



The word ghat means (among other things) steps leading to a body of water where washing may be done. In India, every village, every town has its washing (or dhobi) ghats. The Mahalaxmi dhobi ghats of Mumbai are famous and they're mentioned in every guide book. The ghats are invaded every morning by hordes of tourists, Indian and foreign alike; indeed, the dhobi-wallahs have taken to sell guided tours. We visited them late one afternoon, after having walked for almost the whole day, and found the people inside very friendly and welcoming.

When we turned up at the main entrance, we were first turned away and told brusquely that viewing is only possible in the morning. Fair enough, but we nevertheless strolled around the complex (in India, you quickly appreciate and learn that nobody takes “no” for an answer). At a smaller back entrance (the ghats are enclosed by high walls) a middle-aged man waved and asked us to enter. We did so, though with a little circumspection, but it turned out that he was utterly friendly and actually quite keen to show us around.

The whole site is pretty big and although it was getting late in the afternoon, there were still a few people vigorously smashing wet clothes against walls, heating water or hanging up stuff to dry. Most though were resting after a hard day of work and were rather curious about us. Apparently, most tourists visit in groups and with a (sometimes patronising) guide, so to be able to speak to foreigners, unfiltered, as it were, was clearly something of a novelty for them, especially the youngsters, of whom there are many. We stayed about an hour and they showed us everything: the washing cubicles, their primitive washing machines (made from huge iron drums and old electrical motors), the rooms for heating water, the stacks of wood, and of course the roofs, covered with drying clothing and sheets in all shapes and colours.

A small part of the ghats in bird's-eye view.Close-up: the traditional way of cleaning. These days much of the washing is done with huge self-built machines.Lines and lines of drying clothing in all colours grace the roofs.Here the hot water needed for a thorough wash is heated in big barrels. Mumbai is not the coolest place on Earth and inside these rooms it was suffocatingly hot and humid. And smoky!Falling into disrepair: as so much washing is now done with machines, there are many unused washing cubicles.More washing hung up to dry.The friendly guy who showed us around (and encouraged us to tackle the roofs on some pretty shaky ladders).A group of young dhobi-wallahs who were very friendly and even more curious. Alas, our Marathi was about as good as their English… so the conversation was not as lively as they and we would have wished.The whitish bits on the roof are freshly-cleaned hospital bed sheets.

Go back to Faces of South India or go on to Churches of Goa or go up to Photos

$updated from: Photos.htxt Mon 20 Nov 2017 18:02:39 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$