Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At home in the Zulu kingdom of South Africa

When I landed at the King Shaka International Airport in Durban after travelling for more than 18 hours from Mumbai, I could only think of a shower and a clean bed. And anyway, it is your regular, functional, not-too-blingy airport that doesn't stir too much excitement. 

So i was quite happy to find something totally unexpected there.

While walking towards the exit, I encountered a small group of young, black men a-cappella-ing a song near the domestic arrival gate. It was tender and beautiful and i felt a warm sensation in the general area of my sternum.

There are many reasons why Indians will feel at home in South Africa. Firstly, it has a HUGE population of people of Indian origins. Durban-ites claim it is the biggest outside of India! And that's not the only thing. South Africans love their Indians - probably more than Indians love Indians! 

You can see Indian influences everywhere - in their food, in their conversations, in their markets, even in their stand-up shows! What i absolutely loved about the South Africans was their sing-song twang. Every 'yes' was 'yeeeaaaassss' and every 'no' was 'naooooooo'. Adorable! 

But i digress.

South Africa is beautiful and far, very far away from any dangers of ebola. Yes, the xenophobic attacks were unfortunate and the Home Affairs is dealing with the problem. But every country has its share. God knows, India has a few of her own, including xenophobia itself! That should not be a reason for tourists to not visit it.

I visited only Durban so I can personally vouch for its beauty and safety; the Zulus are known to be very friendly and laid-back. The air is clean, the sea is the colour it should be (not grey!), the roads are smooth and as a rule the footpaths are trash-free. All in all, the people look like they are well looked after by their government. Which is more than i can say about Mumbai.

The Indian market - also called Victoria Street market - is a must-visit. You will find everything there. But you need to be careful with your purse while walking around. Cabs are available easily and you might have to negotiate the fare as most refuse to go by the metre. So its a good idea to get an estimate for your fare.
Victoria Street Market
Another must-do is taking a walk by the long beach, better still, hiring a segway or a cycle and taking a ride by the shore on the promenade, which was done up just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Its a perfect day starter/ender!
Bay of Plenty indeed!
The exchange rate doesn't pinch the pocket too much either. The only problem is the air connectivity. South African Airways recently pulled out a direct Mumbai-Jo'berg flight. Which means that you have to take a via Abu Dhabi or Dubai flights on SAA or Emirates. 

Another downside is that South Africa has just tightened its visa regulations specially for families. But hopefully it is temporary and we may soon see visa-on-arrivals for Indians!

Coming up is a post on my first experience at a game reserve not too far from Durban called Phinda Game Reserve

Good to know
* One rand is roughly Rs 5.5
* South Africa is 3.5 hours behind India
* Its a good idea to buy a local sim (Vodacom) from the airport
* If you need to exchange USD into Rands, do it any of the malls or banks for a much better rate than the airport 
* Must-buys from South Africa: a bottle of Amarula and bead jewellery  

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