I am big on small adventures.
My friend Nkulu, was supposed to be in India as the SA Ambassador at the Youth Be the Change Conference, but his travel documents didn’t arrive in time. I thought the next best thing would be a little local tour – following Ghandi through our city. As usual, my thoughts were on food, so a visit to decades old Kara Nichha’s was the central stop. I didn’t even pack padkos besides the obligatory almonds and water.
First up – the city centre. Most suburbanites don’t venture ‘into town’ anymore, but they are missing out. It is still as delightful as ever with Victorian architecture overlooking the bustling street vendors and modern shops.
I was pleased that the brass elephants, marking the entrances to the lanes were still embedded in the pavements. Unexpected reflections and small surprises.
I had fun boring Nkulu with memories of when Church Street was first pedestrianized, of the times there were French inspired cafes, florists and galleries lining the lanes. There is still plenty of charm, but many of the beautiful buildings are disintegrating now.
We were in search of the Ghandi statue which faces East down towards the City Hall.
It is a special spot and always nice to sit a while on the benches around it and think about his philosophy. One of the plaques at the base states “My life is my message.” I like that.
Next we dodged the taxis trundling along Langalibalele Street to the Sri Siva Soobramoniar Temple. It was getting hot and steamy now. The vibrant colours of the ornate temple were beautiful in the African sun.
There were a number of devotees saying prayers and giving offerings and plenty of pigeons wandering about nibbling at the fruit too.
We wandered along Bengal Alley into Church Street again. Such a contrast from the part we had just left. On the corner a lady was selling fresh peanuts grown in Zululand, so we bought a few bags. I was already thinking about supper – fresh greens with chilli and peanuts?
The counters at Kara Nichha’s were busy so we had time to make our choice. Kara Nichha’s started in 1935. Mr Nichha (who had arrived impoverished in South Africa in 1908) saw the need to produce affordable food for the less fortunate. The prices even now are astonishingly cheap and Kara Nichha’s is a ‘Maritzburg legend.
I chose one of my favourites – puri patha. Amaranthus leaves rolled up with spices and fried and served with two little roti type things. Love the fallen Jacaranda blossoms in the background – so ‘Maritzburg.
We also got a selection of sweet meats – burfee and gulab jamun and some which I had no idea what they were at all- an obligatory bag of chilli bites and a couple of rotis for luck. Nkulu had Bunny Chow. Not really Indian, but filled with very tasty cabbage and potato curry and invented by Indians in South Africa, so pretty close.
Our arms were a bit laden (Nkulu refused a plastic carrier bag at Kara Nichha’s! Yes!) as we headed back to the car. In the shade of a building a vendor has a wonderful array of fresh veggies – including big bunches of dhania, spinach, chillies and bags of podded peas. Couldn’t resist piling a few of those on top of everything else!
Up Jabu Ndlovu Street we went to the very top of Church Street, (this story could be called ‘A Trek along Church Street’) to my favourite Pietermaritzburg building – the Railway Station. It was here is 1893 that Ghandi was tossed from his first class carriage when he refused to move to the class reserved for Indians. This was a pivotal moment in his life and the beginning of his campaign for the rights of South African Indians.
Poor Nkulu had to put up with me reminiscing about the times my sister and I caught the train to Durban as teenagers and how I left (aged 22) by train for my first big overseas trip. Last time I ever saw my mom was her waving to me from the platform – she even brought the dogs along to say goodbye! The waiting benches are just the same, the picture is new.
Now we only had to go around the corner to the Old Prison for the final part of our adventure. This is where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated following his arrest at Tweedie (where the Mandela Capture Site is now).
It is uncertain if Ghandi was imprisoned here, but his wife Kasturba certainly was in 1913. She had led a protest of Indian women when their traditional marriages were declared unlawful. I didn’t know much about her before this, so found the exhibition in her honour fascinating.
Unfortunately the Old Prison Café had closed down, so there was no chance of much need tea after all this exploring. We simply snacked on the sweetmeats and drank all our water and enjoyed being the only tourists at the site. Imagine how packed it would be in actual India?!
How much did this little adventure cost? R53 at Kara Nicha’s, R20 for peas and peanuts and R20 each for the Prison Tour. A whole day in India for R100 – astonishing! The carbon emissions were much more manageable too.
Nkulu said “I never knew anything about Mahatma Gandhi until I was invited to the conference based on Gandhi’s philosophy (be the change you wish to see in the world). Nelson Mandela is a hero to me, but now I have two heroes. When looking at Mahatma’s life it is more or less like Mandela’s life. Both men were fighting for their people – they wanted a better life for all. They did not believe in revenge because it does not bring people together instead it brings anger and violence which I do not like. They will always be my heroes.”