Life is full of contrasts in Mumbai. Five star hotels line the roads along the waterfront and european style restaurants attract wealthy locals whilst a few streets away, some of the poorest people in the country live in slums and struggle for a living.
On a tour of  the city, I was fascinated by the dhobi ghats of Mumbai, one of the city’s main tourist attractions.
These are the open air laundries of Mumbai where the dhobis or washerman spend their days washing the city’s hotel and hospital laundry. You will more than likely be taken to the Dhobi ghat near the Mahalaxmi train station where, standing on the bridge that goes over the rail lines, you have a good view of what’s happening.

Dhobi ghat near Mahalaxmi Station, Mumbai
The dhobi ghat near Mahalaxmi Station

This vast outdoor laundry, a rabbit warren of concrete washing pens and corrugated iron sheds, provides work for approximately two hundred families whose jobs are passed down from father to son.
Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai
Rows of concrete washing pens

After soaking the laundry in the soapy water in the pens, it is bashed against stones, put into vats of bleach or starch and finally hung out to dry.
Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai
Dhobi wallahs standing in the water in concrete washing pens

Dhobi wallah washing clothes at the Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai
Dhobi wallah washing clothes

Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai
Close up of the washing pens with a man using the flogging stone at the back

Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai
Clothes are dried anywhere there is space!

Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai
Drying the laundry

The laundry is then ironed, folded and somehow, it finds its way back to the rightful owner. Each dhobi wallah has their own mark that they use for their laundry. There is a system in all this chaos!

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