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Tourism With A Difference

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Reality Tours, a tour company takes tourists through the less explored parts of Mumbai.  Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum in Mumbai, spread over 175 hectares (1.75 sq km), with a population density of around 3.75 lakh per square kilometer. Often considered as a negative contributor towards a sustainable development of the city, it is either overlooked or neglected. Dharavi gained limelight after featuring as Asia’s largest slum in several movies (Slumdog Millionaire, Black Friday, etc).

It is noteworthy to know that this very slum contributes around 1.5% of Mumbai’s GDP with the presence of numerous small-scale industries. Krishna Pujari and Chris Way started Reality Tours in 2005. Pujari, in his quest for work and responsibility to support his family, arrived at Mumbai from Kerala at the young age of 13. Prior to the inception of Reality Tours, he was studying in night school and simultaneously working in South Mumbai hotels to support his finances. During this phase, Pujari met Way, which eventually led them to becoming friends and future business partners.

The main premise was to show Dharavi in positive light, which is often overlooked due to stereotypical perceptions. The first year for the tour company was 2006, where the response from tourists was mellow. It was an uphill task but their passion has been a constant motivation. Reality Tours had received about 367 visitors in 2006. The team faced many challenges, the major being convincing locals about the tour’s purpose of highlighting the positives and not to demean them.

After signing up for the tour, tourists are introduced to numerous industries functioning in sync. Businesses serving leather products, pottery, clothing, shoes, etc.  Through small and medium sized units, Dharavi also contributes a big chunk of leather goods production for the state. Maharashtra accounts for almost 15% of India’s leather industry. People having no formal training or education make most of the machinery used for production in the industries locally. Reality Tours claim to have utilized 80% of the total revenue for local development and help each stakeholder (staff, local community, beneficiaries of the program) to grow.  Reality Gives, the charity arm of Reality Tours  has initiated many social activities.

They not only train their local staff in English language, but also run educational programs, design curriculum and train teachers to ensure the program delivered is of high quality. The arm runs courses for English, computers, life skills and even extracurricular activities for the girl child like football, cricket and dance. Most of the tour guides are people who had initially no idea that their colony can be a tourist attraction. Some of them have learnt English through Reality Gives program, which helps guides with the tourists. Reality tours claims to have a positive impact that has changed the perception about slums from their visitors.

They claim to have received positive feedback from 86% of their visitors, saying they had not imagined slums in such a positive way before. The tour that started in Dharavi is now being replicated in others parts of the country.

Sanjay Colony in Delhi is the second place where Reality Tours has started operation. Around 50 people have been employed on full time basis for Reality Gives and Tours, including the Teachers and guides. About 15,000 and more guests (Tourists, local and international School Children, Domestic and international businesspersons, expats, volunteers, etc) visit to take a tour each year. Like the way we see in the video, Pujari says, “We have been able to raise around Rupee 3 crore for Reality Gives so far, which is being used for providing high quality education in Dharavi. This has helped us to have an impact for around 6,000 beneficiaries.” (With inputs from Neha Bilandani)