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Slumdog tours: A new travel destination in India?

Heidi Schmoll,  Feb 25, 2009

Anything come to mind when you think of traveling to India? The Taj Mahal, perhaps? Wildlife sanctuaries, yoga retreats, samosa stands, beach filled coastline? How about a tour of an authentic Indian slum? That’s right, a slum. This seems to be a viable tourist option now, and gaining speed due to Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. You can sign up for a merry jaunt through the poorest sections of Mumbai. To take in the poverty and sorrow?

A few weeks ago, while speaking to a student from India about Slumdog Millionaire, I was told this is a new tour for travelers to put on their To-do list. And indeed it is. I was nonplussed to say the least. Times Online does its best to paint a foul picture of these areas. Travelers can pay a fee to tour through.

‚ÄúBut Mumbai‚Äôs controversial ‚Äúslum tourism‚ÄĚ industry, which promises fee-paying outsiders a glimpse of life inside the city‚Äôs shantytowns, is flourishing. Numbers are up, agents say, as Westerners shun the beaches of Goa and palaces of Rajasthan to experience the reality behind British film Slumdog Millionaire."

I cannot help but picture well-off tourists exclaiming to their traveling companions behind wide eyes and camera flashes how bad that section is, and oooh, look at that over there.

Part of my confliction over these tours is the goal of the tour itself. Just what is it? Is it our human tendency to slow down when passing an accident, to not want to look, but not want to look away? Does someone want to capitalize on the plight of others? Or the equally cynical view that people want to know how good they have it back home?

But perhaps, just perhaps, it’s a desire to really see the world. To feel. International travel can most definitely offer the crème de la crème of the world. It can also offer reality.

Slumdog tours: A new travel destination in India?
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