The other Dharavi you didn't know of

By Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Not to be confused by its namesake near Sion, Dharavi Island is home to one of Mumbai's earliest communities, ancient church ruins, controversial donkey stones, and old-world charm

Vairala Tank

When we ask Mogan Rodrigues, 39, a resident of Uttan Village, how long it hasbeen since his family settled there, he chuckles and says, "I am 500 years old." Further through our conversation, we realise how entwined his identity is with the space and his profession as a tour guide.

"People come to this part of Mumbai as day picnickers, but they haven't seen the culture of one of the last remaining bastions of the East Indian community," he says. The area that he is referring to, is Dharavi Island that comprises six villages — Dongri, Uttan, Pali, Chowk, Gorai and Manori.


Mogan Rodrigues

But the island is more than just picturesque, and Rodrigues, as the guide for a tour next week, aims to show people just that. The event is being organised by Swadesee, a tour company that offers travel experiences with a local expert. Co-founder Mohit Bagadia explains, "This region is under serious threat of being swallowed by the growing borders of Mumbai. We normally classify our heritage experiences as history, culture or nature-based but this is unique because it combines all three aspects."

Age-old East Indian homes

Kulvem Village in Gorai, is one of the few places in the area that retains its old charm. East Indians here were primarily agrarian, and their nearly century-old Mangalorean-tiled homes with wooden balconies and verandahs have spacious kitchens along with a backdoor for animals like pigs.

Sacred spaces

Our Lady of the Sea Church in Uttan (in pic above), was built around 1664, while Our Lady of Bethlehem is over 400 years old. The ruins of Infant Jesus Church [destroyed after the Maratha invasion in 1739] can be spotted from Vairala Tank. At the East Indian Museum put together by the Mogai Gauthan Panchayat in Uttan, one can spot the puraan — a bible from the 1600s written in the East Indian language with a Roman script. MGP is also working on a dictionary to preserve the language which is a dialect of Marathi and Konkani.

A bite of culture

At the end of the tour, participants will taste authentic East Indian food. On the menu are specialities like chicken moilee, a thin gravy; fish kujit, pomfret fish curry; fugyas, small balls of bread that are deep fried, and prawn lonvas, a prawn and drumstick curry prepared in coconut milk.

A tale of two stones

Two Gadhegals or donkey stones, which depict a donkey having sex with a woman, from the 12th century can be spotted on the island. Similar stones were spotted in Uran, too. Although villagers have been worshipping the stones for years, archaeologists in 2012 deciphered these as being declaration of land grants where such punishment would be laid upon anyone who dared to encroach the property.


Many people are often left confused between Dharavi Island and Dharavi. The island was named after the Dharavi Devi Mandir that still stands there today. In Tamil, "dharavi" means loose mud.

On September 16, 9.15 am to 2 pm
Meeting Point Bhayander Railway Station West.
Log on to swadesee.com
Cost Rs 1,190 onwards

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