Mumbai’s Biggest Human-Powered Washing Machine – Dhobi Ghat
Dhobi Ghat, a 140 years old open-air launderette, is such a wonder of Mumbai. For the uninitiated, ‘dhobi’ means washerman, and ‘ghat’ means stairs leading to a river or water body in Hindi. Hence the name Dhobi Ghat. Viewing the clothes sedulously hand washed by the laundrymen in unending rows of concrete wash pens fitted with flogging stones, provides an indelible glimpse into the workings of the city and unlike anything you have ever seen.
The world’s biggest outdoor laundry, Dhobi Ghat is an extremely popular attraction amid foreign tourists.
For 18 to 20 hours every day, more than 7,000 people flog, scour, dye, and bleach clothes on concrete wash pens, dry them on ropes, deftly iron them and deliver the garments to various parts of the city. More than 100,000 clothes are washed every day. The dhobis collect clothes from different places of the city, mostly from their regular and biggest clients being neighborhood laundries, garment dealers, decorators and caterers, hotels, clubs, and hospitals. They are known for their promptitude and great organizing skills.
Dhobi Ghat Location
At first glimpse, Dhobi Ghat gives a chaotic vibe. However, a closer glance brings out the order in the mayhem. Lines and lines of cleaned clothes are hung out to dry in a manner that optimizes both space and time. The world’s biggest open laundry or the popularly known Dhobi Ghat is situated near Mahalakshmi railway station, where men are busy with the laundry cleaning.
Dhobi Ghat Laundry
At Dhobi Ghat, it is a traditional laundryman, who will collect your dirty linen, wash it, and return it neatly pressed to your doorstep. All of this back-breaking work for a pittance. They charge just Rs.10 per garment. Isn’t that really cheap compared to Rs.50, what we pay to the dry cleaners? Almost all the dhobis and their families work together in what has always been a hereditary occupation, stay in small chawls/slums, which have been constructed inside the ghat.
A particular block here, which is constructed to wash clothes, is owned by a particular person, where only he or his employees can wash clothes. If one is employed then he receives a salary every month from the block owner. Work at Dhobi Ghat begins with the first twilight of the day, and depending on the number of clothes, which run in thousands, work continues for hours, at times going on till late evening.
It is amazing to notice that the clothes after being cleansed, dried, and ironed, return to the right person. All the washermen follow the system of marking the clothes they pick from the customer. Mostly a code is marked at the back of the clothes that allow the right piece of laundry to get back to its owner. This system is astonishingly efficient and one of the main reasons for the ghat’s popularity. It is very fascinating to learn how all garments are marked and distributed to the correct owners all over the city. A logistics miracle.
This is the most recognized labour organization subsequent to the Dabbawallas in Mumbai. Similarly to Dabbawalla’s, this community has also remained punctual and reliable to their customer base. They transposed, but not in ethics, and have only refined their quality of work by fostering machinery. Each of the family is allotted a definitive number of customers and they don’t try to downsize other businesses here. Their man power is divided according to skills and they arrange their team accordingly. Some of them are well skilled in drying and some are in washing.
Home to around 200 dhobis and their families, the Dhobi Ghat is also known as the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat as it is in direct line of sight from the Mahalaxmi train station. The best time to visit Dhobi Ghat is the early hours of daylight and early afternoon. In the early morning you can see the dhobis are in action while taking care of the washing load, the early afternoon is a perfect time to see the clothes drying. If you happen to visit the dhobi ghat, you can get homey tours from varied dhobis, who are always more than excited to share stories of their trade with curious travelers.
Must Known Facts About Dhobi Ghat
The Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Cooperative Society, the institution which represents the dhobi community, estimates the yearly turnover of the Dhobi Ghat at around Rs 100 crore. Dhobi Ghat had also managed to grab a Guinness Book of World Records title under ‘most people hand-washing clothes at a single location’ in 2011. Even from songs to movies, from national news to international headlines, the dhobi ghat has always grabbed the limelight. Many Indian movies like Satya, Virasat, Munna Bhai MBBS, and the famous movie Dhobhi Ghat was also filmed here.
Mumbai is a place where the real estate prices are notoriously high, and these dhobis are occupying a cream area at the heart of the city. City’s Municipal Corporation charges them the bare minimum rent for space, water, and electricity. They are provided with a continuous water supply for washing clothes. Every month the money for payment of the municipal bills are accumulated from all the owners of ghats and then handed over to the State Government.
With the introduction of washing machines and drying equipment’s in nearly every household and large hotels and hospitals establishing their own laundries, business at Dhobi Ghat is not as burgeoning as it used to be earlier. Newly mushrooming laundries at different places of Mumbai charges a customer around Rs 50 for the washcloth. These clothes are then brought to the dhobi ghat where each cloth is washed for as little as Rs 5. One of the largest clients of this dhobi ghat used to be the Indian Railways, but now they have their own washing systems and equipment. There is now a lot of under-cutting in the business of dhobi ghat.
If you want comprehensive information about the Dhobi Ghat then you should hire a guide who will charge you approx 100-200 Rupees, a few dollars worth only.
Perfect Time to Visit Dhobi Ghat
The perfect time to visit this place is between October and March as the intensity of humidity in the air is less than the rest of the months around the year. The scorching heat of Mumbai can be extremely harsh to someone who doesn’t have the experience, hence planning a trip during the suggested months will be perfect.
The view of Dhobi Ghat is astonishing, and anyone traveling to India and visiting Mumbai should definitely visit this place for an amazing and unforgettable experience.