HYDERABAD: Durban welcomed me with a grey sky and cold showers, but with a warm heart. In the second week of May, I felt an unusual thrill as I stepped out of the airport, slightly shivering and facing dusk at 4.30 in the evening. Coming from summertime warm India, it was a welcome change.
South Africa, as later the handsome Nicholen at the hotel (Sun Coast Towers) tells me, is in the last leg of the autumn, soon to embark on a cold winter. As anything cold only warms my heart, I lapped up all the information on SA’s weather, quickly calculating when to schedule my next trip. Then it struck me that this could even become a wise option for many Indian families looking for a cool destination during summer vacation!
As the hotel is on the beachfront, my room has a great view of the sea. The great Indian Ocean relentlessly tries to entertain me with its fascinating waves, passing ships and the changing colours of the horizon. The Sun Coast Towers have exotic restaurants and a casino to indulge in. Needless to say that it comes as a bonus – I just have to walk across, through the elegant vestibules. No extra
effort in booking cabs and commuting long distances.
The next day was spent walking along the promenade in front of the hotel till the flea market. Walking in the rain through puddles, getting drenched, with the high-speed wind upturning the umbrella was no fun. But sinking into the environs certainly was. As I walked along, lovely sand sculptures greeted me on the beach. The Durban monkeys on the promenade gave a wonderful performance on the trees but the best was when a mother monkey groomed her baby most affectionately.
The roads were mostly deserted except for a few who loved soaking in the rain: there was a father-son duo skating. The flea market on the promenade had a few shops open that were filled with the most amazing handicrafts. One can’t but marvel at the fine workmanship of the Zulus; especially their beadwork which is outstanding.
The next day was spent in the company of the Zulu tribe, to peep into their lives, to learn how they protect their culture and tradition from the onslaught of greedy invaders in the past and now the all-permeating modernity. It is one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Half an hour inland from the beautiful beaches of Durban, at the gateway to the scenic KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, lies the picturesque Valley of a Thousand Hills.
The drive was a visual delight filled with the guide Zamani’s narration of Zulu history. The polygamous Zulu man had to give 11 cows to each wife for her sustenance. Of course, the figure has to be multiplied by the number of wives he would take.
The present day educated urban Zulu youth is not spared either when it comes to the bride price. Instead of the 11 cows that anyway don’t fit into his present lifestyle, he has to shell out an equivalent amount that would be their cost: which comes to a staggering 77,000 Rands. Forget about many, even to get one wife is a herculean task for him.
Hence, many young men stay unmarried. Zamani said he is still a bachelor, in the process of saving money for the required 11 cows, and now his score stands at three. As he spoke of the racial segregation that existed earlier, I could see the posh neighbourhoods of the white Europeans (mostly the British) closer to the city and the Zulu settlements with literally no amenities scattered far away.
For generations the Zulu have lived in and around the valley. The misty hills and the beautiful River Umgeni belonged to them for centuries. Zamani took me around the Zulu houses that are quite similar to the houses of many ethnic groups in India: circular with a small entrance. The roof is covered with thick elephant grass that is native to the African grasslands.
The Zulu dance was one of the most wonderful experiences I have had. The vibrant Zulu music would make even a dead man get up and shake a leg! The thundering rhythm kept by the drums and the colourful traditional attire made the dance quite spectacular.
One of the very impressive dances they performed is derived from the war dances, most often associated with Zulu culture: untouched by Western influence probably because it is regarded as a touchstone of Zulu identity.
In full regimental attire, wearing skins, head rings, ceremonial belts, ankle rattles, shields and weapons like knobkerries and spears, they jumped into the air with loud, thunderous cries, almost recreating the battlefield.
There was a humorous musical skit/dialogue between a boy and a girl, where he proposed and the girl accepted after much taunting and denial, later sealing the deal by presenting him a bead necklace that she had made. We were served cutlets made of crocodile meat, but at such times, I turn a pure vegetarian.
There was a drink too that was offered, that smelled and tasted like mild coconut toddy. The adjacent Phezulu Safari Park has an interesting array of crocodiles, alligators and the most deadly snakes. After a brief five minutes into the Safari Park, I retreated quickly, out of aversion for reptiles and fear of the snakes. The curio shops are filled with lovely handicrafts made by the locals.
While parting I wished Zamani good luck with the count of the cows. Hope he earns well and reaches the customary number of 11; gets a bride and stops there. More wealth, more wives……. more trouble for all!!
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at lVijaya Pratapijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)