Thursday, 29 August 2013

The world's largest laundromat

This is the world’s biggest open air Laundromat. It is the scene of many films and has now transformed itself into an international sight seeing exhibit.
This is the famous Dhobi Ghat of Mumbai. It is commonly called the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat and it is the best known among the twelve open air laundromats of Mumbai.
The dhobis or washers work in the open to wash the clothes from Mumbai's hotels and hospitals. The Dhobi Ghat comprises of  rows upon rows of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone.
Simply called the world's largest outdoor laundry, Dhobi Ghat is a very popular attraction among foreign tourists and it is a great photo op for them. Several films have been shot here and even the venerable New York Times has carried an article on it.
Bollywood has named an entire film after the Dhobi Ghat. Its names: Of course Dhobi Ghat and it was released in January 2011. The film is also known as Mumbai diaries and it stars  Amir Khan, Prateik Babbar and others. Bollywood’s iconic film Don starring Amitabh Bachchan was shot here-a song from the film was shot at the Washermen Colony in Mahalakshmi- as was Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai.
Just a few months ago, Tamil actor Vijay was at the Ghat shooting for his film Thupaki and Anil Kapoor some time ago for the Hindi film Shootout at Wadala.  
The who is who of the world have come and seen the Dhobiu Ghat and gone back impressed. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, former US President  Bill Clinton, the Australian Cricket team, and others have visited the Ghat.  
Since it is located next to the Mahalakshmi Railway Station on the Western Railway network at Saat Rasta roundabout, it is also called Mahalakshmi Dhobi Ghat.
The beginnings of the Dhobi Ghat go back to the time when Europeans and Parsis made Bombay their home in the 19th century and the city began to industrialise. It was sometime between 1885 and 1890 that the Ghat was set up and later it had 731 washing stones (Today too there are the same number).
The dhobi Ghat can easily be seen from flyover bridge of Mahalaxmi suburban railway station. 
In 2013, World Records India and World Amazing Records honored World Record Certificate to Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co- op. Society Ltd and recognized the ghat as the largest open air laundry in the world.
The Dhobi Ghat, by any stretch of imagination, is a stupendous sight. You can see hundreds of washermen or dhobis washing clothes, dipping soiled clothes in huge buckets filled with soapy suds.
The washed clothes are then dried under the open sky and you can see rows and rows of clothes hung out to dry. One hundred to one hundred and fifty clothes are hung out to dry on each rope which is tied to a bamboo pole at opposite ends.
What many do not know is that only a handful of dhobis here are involved in washing clothes of individual people or families. Most of them wash clothes which come from hotels, hospitals and commercial establishments like restaurants, guest houses.
It is a sight to see hundreds of washermen dip clothes in boiling water containing washing soda and then systematically flogged on the stone slabs set in the concrete pens. Over a lakh clothes are washed every day, ironed and handed back to the customers the same day.
After the clothes dry, they are  ironed with charcoal presses which are very heavy. These charcoal presses have wooden handles and the burning embers emit sufficient heat to press clothes.
According to the latest statistics, more than 200 families are involved in the hereditary profession. Though the Ghat has automatic washing machines, they are not used as dhobis prefer the manual way. The iconic Dhobi Ghat is getting a make over, thanks to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
The Dhobi Ghat is more than a century old and the washing and drying area is spread over a 23-acre plot. The flooring was done when the Britishers were ruling India.
Typically, Dhobi Ghat uses about 9.000 kilograms of wood per day and the total expenditure come to about Rs 27,000 a day. The municipality rents out over 800 washing pens (each fitted with a beating stone) to the dhobis at Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat and to make the most of them, work starts well before sunrise.
The Dhobi Ghat has fourteen doors and the  main door has the sign of the Washermen cooperative society-the  Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas Co-operative society”, above it. Till the 1960s, a watchman used to ring the bell to signal the opening of the Ghat. The watchman also ensured that nobody stayed back at the Ghat.   
Another fairly big open air laundry or Dhobi Ghat is at Colaba. This is just off  Captain Prakash Pehe Marg. The Dhobi Ghat remains open daily 24 hours. Initially, many of the dhobis were from Uttar Pradesh. Now, you can find dhobis from Gujarati, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Bihar.
Today, there are slum tours and guided outings to Dhobi Ghat: All at a price of course. Take the tour of Dhobi Ghat or do it on your own if you can stand the smell of detergent.  

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