Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

If you want to witness the ‘World’s largest human-powered Washing Machine’ in action, this is the place to visit.

Every morning at 4:30am, over 700 washermen or laundrymen and their families, start beating the dirt out of thousands of kilograms of dirty laundry in 1026 open air troughs at the over 140-year old Dhobi Ghat (washerman’s colony) in Mumbai.

Welcome to the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai.

I visited this place while I was visiting Mumbai for a friend’s wedding. I was lodged at Andheri and the best way to reach Mahalaxmi from there that morning was to catch the slow train from Andheri station till Mahalaxmi Station. The best view of the Dhobi Ghat is from the bridge across the railway tracks near Mahalaxmi train station and that is where from I clicked this panoramic shot. I saw row upon row of concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. The clothes were visible, some soaked in sudsy water, while some being thrashed on the flogging stones.

I requested a local resident at the dwellings opposite the entrance of the Dhobi Ghat to give me a tour inside this one-of-a-kind workplace. Once inside, I learnt about how this place functions.

Every night/early morning, depending upon the clientele each of the washermen works with, Light Commercial vehicles like Tempos or TATA 407s belonging to various Laundry Units that have set shop in the city or otherwise bring tonnes of dirty linen collected from hotels, hospitals, small lodges, hostels or other institutions to the ‘dhobi’ they work with in this Dhobi Ghat.

Each piece of cloth, be it a bedsheet, towel, pillow cover or a doctor’s apron is then carefully labelled and the label is inserted by a thread onto the corner of the cloth. This is done to ensure that the linen, once clean and ironed, reaches its earmarked destination without fail.

Once labelled, the clothes make their way to the respective air-troughs and washermen segregate them as per the colour and material of the fabric and then begins the cleaning process. Most of the linen that comes here is white in colour, so white coloured linen is washed and starched separately from the coloured one to prevent colour transfer that may inadvertently happen during cleaning.

I took a walk in the shops just outside the Dhobi ghat, most of which sell laundry cleaning materials in liquid and powder form.

After being dipped and flipped in detergent filled water troughs, the dhobis or washermen flog the linen on the flogging stones to get rid of the dirt and water. Then, once the water is squeezed out, the clothes are hung for drying with their corners inserted in the turns of twisted jute ropes. No cloth-hanging clips are used here.

Necessity is the mother of Invention – This unique way of hanging clothes adopted by dhobis facilitates speedy removal of clothes from the ropes in case it rains, as it can rain anytime in Mumbai or so is said.

By the time the sun comes out in full force, most washermen here can be seen hanging the cleansed clothes for sun-drying.

A few washermen have now even installed heavy duty washing machines inside the Mahalaxmi Dhobi ghat, which also has a workers union called the ‘Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co – op. Society Ltd.’ which was honoured with a World Record Certificate in 2013, by World Records India and World Amazing Records.

After being sun-dried, the linen makes its way to workers who iron it and neatly pile it up and pack them back for dispatch.

It can get sweltering hot inside the Dhobi ghat in the already humid environs of Mumbai city and thus, after concluding my walking tour through the Mahalaxmi Dhobi ghat I went and gorged on breakfast and lassi in a restaurant located within Mahalaxmi itself.

Instead of taking the train back to Andheri, I chose to splurge on the taxi on my way back, for I wanted to see another marvel of Mumbai, the Bandra-Worli sea-link, the photographs of which are another story for another day!

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