Washing lines zigzag across the laneway, hung heavy with fabrics in every shape and size. Beneath them, a drab grid of concrete wash pens, presided over by men known as dhobiwallahs, or washermen, who knead, pound and pummel Mumbai’s dirty laundry clean.
This is Dhobi Ghat in Mahalaxmi, apparently the largest outdoor laundry in the world. Here, around 200,000 garments a day are washed, dried, starched, ironed then returned to hotels, hospitals and homes in neat bundles.
It’s early, but the laundering is well underway, with cloth already hung out to dry in dazzling blocks of white, or fluttering sections of green, blue and pink. Then there are the jeans. Denim in every shade hangs like bunting above the washing cubicles, drying in the rising heat of the morning sun.
Meanwhile, a few of the guys give themselves the once over with the soapy suds – an early morning wash before they plough on with their work.
The role of dhobiwallah is often hereditary, I am told. But here at Dhobi Ghat, many of the men have come from the villages and send their salaries of around 150 rupees a day back home to their families.
Beyond the washing lines, dusty trains judder past at frequent intervals, crammed with commuters that gasp at air through tiny rectangular windows. Their yellow and blue stripes pass through nearby Mahalaxmi station, heading for sky high office buildings down the track.
And tied up by the streetside, a small brown cow, that is greeted respectfully by passers-by, even as they take on the morning bustle.
I visited Dhobi Ghat with Reality Tours.