Today was our last day – and talk about finishing with a bang!
Ganpati was huge – even bigger than last year, it seemed.
More on that later.
But first –
Our day started with a trip to the Dharavi slums near the airport – made famous in the film Slumdog Millionaire, as well as the best selling novel Shantaram. An extraordinary book.
I’d driven past these slums dozens of times, but never ventured to stop, much less walk in. But we picked up a guide outside the slums, and he showed us around.
By “guide,” I mean he was just a bloke who was hanging around outside the slums, who said he could take us through. Later when we came to pay him he refused payment – he said it was his pleasure to be able to show us where he lived and worked.
We insisted – but it was a shock to us that someone living in the slums wouldn’t want payment. But as we wandered around the inside of the slums, it became apparent to us that what you see from the outside is not what it’s actually like inside.
Inside, the slum is a thriving commercial hub. It’s perhaps one of the most efficient reccyling plants imaginable. Every conceivable kind of junk is turned into something useful, something that can be resold.
We wandered through, at first feeling a little uncomfortable at our intrusion – we were after all affluent Westerners walking through their territory taking photographs. But we were welcomed with smiles and grace, and invited into their homes and mini factories.
At no time did any of them ever ask us for anything.
There was no begging, no asking for money if we took a photo, and we felt no sense of threat or hostility. On the contrary, we were warmly welcomed.
It was an eye opener for some of us – to see the dignity with which these slum dwellers lived their lives. They seemed happy, content, friendly, and they were certainly industrious.
One of our group also noticed that unlike American or some European slums, there was no sign of drugs, or alcohol abuse, none of these slum dwellers was stoned or drunk – there was no sense that our lives were in any danger whatsoever.
Walk into a slum in East LA taking photos and chances are you’ll be stretchered out with multiple gunshot wounds.
We then got into our bus and headed for the JW Marriott Hotel, at Juhu Beach. It’s the hangout of the major Bollywood stars, and Jennifer and I often stay there when we’re working in Bombay.
They have an amazing Sunday brunch buffet – voted the top buffet in all of India – and we proceeded to feast on an amazing array of foods – from caviar to sashimi to roast duck to the best selection of sweets I’ve ever seen.
After lunch we came back to the hotel and rested before heading out for Ganpati.
We walked 2kms from our hotel to the beach, and by the time we got there there must have been half a million people already watching as the Ganeshas trundled their way down to the water.
Ganpati is a celebration of the elephant God Ganesha – which Hindus believe clears obstacles from their path in life.
The statues are made from plaster-of-paris or paper mache, and once immersed in the sea off Bombay, they begin to disintegrate in the water. Some of the statues are two stories high.
As the light began to fall the bigger statues made their way down the beach, and more people flooded in. There must have been at least a million people there – and possibly more. For our group, it was the experience of a lifetime – and a fitting end to an extraordinary tour.
Later, over dinner, we all marvelled at how much we’ve seen, and experienced, in these past two weeks. From the Red Fort in Delhi, to the Taj Mahal, to the Golden Temple and Amritsar, to the Dalai Lama temple and all the Buddhist temples in Dharamsala, to the ashram at Rishikesh and the very moving aarti ceremonies – and now Ganpati; it really has been jam packed with amazing experiences.
For Jennifer and me, the highlight has been having the opportunity to share the India we are getting to know with some truly wonderful people.
Tomorrow when we all go our separate ways, we’ll all be sad – because it has been a very special time we’ve spent together.