Durban - The Victoria Street Market’s purple minarets peer through the concrete barrier as you drive into the Durban city centre.
The market stands out among the greys and browns that dot the cityscape – a technicolour coat to the city’s monotone wardrobe.
In the same way, the market stands out as a meeting point for the local and the exotic.
Bright red curry powders, imported from India, fill the air with the thick scent of heat and flavour.
A curio store displays products from South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, interspersed along the shop’s walls and tables.
Fabric from the Congo, Nigeria and Gabon line the rails of shops, between traditional South African designs.
The rainbow-coloured signs plonked in the bowls of spices at RA Moodley Curry King & Queen Spices read like tabloid headlines.
A bowl of “JUST LIKE KENTUCKY” spice sits below “SPECIAL CHILLI POWDER” on the bright yellow countertops of the store, while brightly coloured wreaths and garlands hang from the ceiling.
Sanusha Moodley comes to the shop every day after school to help behind the counters.
Despite being a teacher, she chooses to follow family tradition by helping patrons who come looking for just the right curry spice.
“We give people one-on-one advice, and help with recipes for the customers,” Moodley said.
The store has a long history and she is the third generation keeping the family business running.
Their spices, imported from Madagascar and India, overflow from stainless steel bowls, the smells blending into one another as if stirred by the dense air.
Moodley sees plenty of new faces every day, as tourists and locals come to get their spice fix.
The market provides opportunities for personal interactions and Moodley believes that giving advice to those looking for curry tips helps to keep her shop special.
Around the corner, at Kurio King, you’ll find as much African culture as can be crammed into that space.
Owner Yusuf Shabally believes that quality speaks volumes and imports his wares from across southern Africa.
Zulu tribal shields of various shapes and sizes line the walls of the shop between traditional masks, game skins and stone carvings.
The experience also involves bartering about your price, as negotiation forms part of the process.
“It’s a bit of everything mixed, for locals and tourists,” said Shabally.
Elsewhere in the market, tobacco leaves dry on newspaper outside Ugwayi Tobacco House.
Again, aroma is important and while the smell is different to that of the spice stores, it is no less interesting. The fibrous leaves are rich and when dried, crushed and mixed with aloe vera become sniffing tobacco.
For those without the time or the aptitude, snuff can be bought in its ready-to-use form in the shop, where plastic buckets are filled with kilograms of the fine powder.
If clothes are more up your street, venture further into the market to Phambili African Creation.
Solange Bisano sews imported fabrics into dresses and shirts at the back of the shop.
Her sister Esther describes the process, explaining that it takes three days to create the dresses donned by mannequins in the store.
“We get our fabric from Congo, Nigeria, Gabon and from South Africa.
“Then my sister will sew them into these outfits in traditional style,” she said.
Lamule Sbisi and Zama Biyela, deeper in the passages of Victoria Street Market, make beaded necklaces and other attire for traditional Zulu ceremonies.
“In December it’s busy with all of the tourists, and then it’s busy when people come to get outfits for their ceremonies. In our shop we will make the whole outfit, and everything will match,” Biyela said.
The brightly coloured beads are used to decorate everything from clothing to headgear and the traditional Zulu club, or iwisa.
Though the traditions and cultures may differ from shop to shop, colour remains a constant.
From the bright hues to the radiant characters that line the corridors of the market space, there are plenty of things to catch the eye.
l The Victoria Street Market can be found on the corner of Victoria Street and Queen streets. It is open from 8am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and 10am to 4pm on Sundays and public holidays. - Philip Wilson, Independent on Saturday