We asked our friend Kit, whom we met in the Cook Islands, if he wanted to write something for our blog. He took a sudden detour through the past to bring us his account of crossing the Indian Ocean at Christmas time, 1975.
Kenya to India: Memories and an Old Friend from the S.S. Karanja by Kit Herring
You never know what you’ll find these days when you turn on the computer. Recently my email showed a comment from a reader of my blog, The Backpacker’s Handbook. The writer, a guy named Steve who was originally from the UK but who now resided in New Zealand, indicated that he was on the Christmas 1975 trip of the Karanja from Mombasa to Bombay and he was wondering if I had been present during the same voyage.
1) The Karanja in 1948, pride of the British India Line (image courtesy of The Ocean Liner Virtual Museum, UK)
I had posted a scan of a document that passengers who booked third class were obliged to sign – although I never did – relieving the ship owners from responsibility pertaining to the mixing of races below decks. The document was a real piece of work and had survived in my possession all these years. Along with the paperwork I mentioned that I had traveled on the vessel. Steve had found my post somehow and was motivated to write back.
That memorable trip on the Karanja, across the Indian Ocean from Africa to South Asia, had also included a four day stop-over in Karachi. Steve remembered not only me but my friend Tony, along with a long list of travelers on the trip. Amazing.
The Karanja had started the passage a few days before Christmas, sailing from the port of Mombasa. As I recall, she didn’t sail very often and so I had waited out the time for the trip in a remote ocean-front cottage some miles north of the city.
2) View of the Indian Ocean from the house in the bush. A plethora of interesting critters called the tidal flats in front of the beach home. Many of them were venomous
The voyage itself was festive enough and included a wild Christmas Eve dance in first class. Luckily for us travelers the South African ship’s officers were not inclined to enforce the rules regarding the mingling of races, as long as said mingling was conducted only by whites. And I still remember the bar in the restaurant. We were able to buy all the duty-free booze we coveted, and the shop was run by a pleasant Indian fellow, whom Steve reminded me was often quite soused himself.
I also recall the lifeboat drill just after we left Mombasa. The whites scurried to the proper stations with haste, while all the Asians remained on their bunks, wondering what the fuss was about. It was a great introduction to Indian fatalism.
At night we used to go up on deck and listen to the Asians onboard making music under the stars with their homemade instruments, a lovely and spiritual experience.
In Karachi we spent the days wandering the city streets, our first glimpse of the complexities of the sub-continent. Everyone in the city seemed to be extremely friendly and I quickly became entranced.
The only negative vibes I witnessed during the ten or twelve days it took to cross the sea occurred while in Karachi, in fact. Another South African, this one a passenger, couldn’t handle all the “wogs” he saw dockside. He actually took a bucket of soapy water he found somewhere and heaved it over the side of the ship, in full view of myself and a number of other people, dousing the Pakistani longshoremen below. An unrepentant racist, he was quickly manhandled by officers onboard and taken to the brig. I never saw him again. His vitriol had been non-stop and we were glad to be rid of him.
Finally the ship docked in Bombay and we parted ways from our Indian fellow passengers and from the other travelers. I did run into Steve one time in Delhi, he tells me, but frankly, my recollection of the meeting has been lost to history.
It’s nice to know that the Internet has made the world smaller. How easily forgotten are the travels and travails of our youth.
3) The Para Ganj from my Delhi hotel room, coffee stains and all
We hope you enjoyed this post by Kit. More from him at: The Backpacker’s Handbook.
More from us: next week! We have some exciting news to share with you in the coming weeks!!
Check back for updates from Lisa and George.
We hope you will join us March 24, 7pm for a Travel Talk: Uncovering Jewish Morocco. There will be photos, music, information and food.
34 responses to “Kenya to India: Memories and an Old Friend from the S.S. Karanja”
"Love this, Lisa! Thanks for posting it – it's very inspirational. "
Thank you! Hope you are getting out there to travel as the amazing teacher that you are!
I was the 2nd Electrical Officer on the Karanja from 1974 to 1975
Reading this brought back a lot of happy memories
Like you I found this post and it brought back fond memories so thought I’d drop you a line.
I did my first trip to sea as a Junior Radio Officer. I joined this ship in Bombay on 27th December 1975. You will no doubt know Colin Emmet and Mr McGoo (as we called him) who were two senior Radio Officers on board. Looking back on my time I’d say the six months I did on board the Karanja were the most enjoyable times I spent at sea.
Other Characters I remember we’re Alky Malcy and Dagmar who were engineers. I was good friends with a third mate called Ben the Third Mate. The captain at the time was “Ding ding” Bell and the chief engineer was a big Scott, a really nice guy called Alistair. No doubt you will recall them all, or most.
Just came across this
I was Third Officer on this ship at about that time
It was the best period of my seagoing career
I was a tall skinny shaggy haired dude
Am still tall and skinny !!!
Just spent the evening compiling an email which I’ve just sent to you only to find your online email account is full and inactive. I’m on email@example.com if you by chance revisit this blog. Fingers crossed.
In March 1972 I also travelled on Karanja from Seychelles to Bombay on my way to Australia, Bunk of course.
Paul I went at very young age with my parents on karanja London in 72 from Dar Es sallam
To Bombay & also to the beautiful islands of Seychelles.
Thank you for sharing your story! Memories like these are priceless.
I was on the Karanja in June ’76 from Mombasa to Bombay, bunk class. It was supposedly the last trip, before it was sold. An experience of days gone by even then and still in my mind !
I joined the Karanja in June 1975 and left it in January 1976. It was my first posting on joining the Merchant Navy as a Radio Officer.
Being my first sojurn from home it was a non-stop adventure for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on board.
The Karanja was registered in London but it’s home port was Bombay (now Mumbai) and she sailed to Karachi, Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam, Beira and Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) and finally Durban. The return journey was in reverse order with the exception of Beira (which was omitted sailing North). The round trip took approximately 7 weeks.
I took over as Junior R/O from you in Dec 1975. Like you I had a great time, in fact the best! I’m still in touch with Colin Emmet on an infrequent basis. He lives in the Isle of Wight and the last time I contacted him he was working in the prison service over there.
Colin and I went game fishing several times when we visited Mombasa and also did a bit of water skiing in the harbour. I’ve been looking around the internet, Facebook etc to find information about the Karanja and so far this is the best source of memorabilia. I’d love to find a site or group which would enable me to share some of the memories plus photos.
I did 7 years in total at sea. Initially with Marconi Marine but the joined the United Arab Shipping Company. On the last trip to see I took my wife of 7 days. That ended out being my longest trip – 7.5 months.
After leaving the sea I got into computers which is where I stayed until taking early retirement nearly 2 years ago.
I now live in Poole.
All the best
Hi John, I remember the Karanja in Mozambique back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. She was famous among indian community.
How do I get passenger list as my family migrated and curious to find out about the date of arrival
I am reading my father’s Discharge Book. He was 2nd WTO on the SS Karanja from 5.7.36 – 21.8.1936. I am reading his diaries. He passed away in 1988, but I am interested in finding families/relatives who might have known him.
Hello, I was born on SS Karanja in November 1968. I would like to find any of the crew of the ship at the time.
I was traveling with my soon to be Australian wife Margaret on the the Karanja from Port Elizabeth to Bombay in October, 1971. We made stops in Beira, Mombasa, the Seychelles and finally Bombay. It was during the first India Pakistan war, and the ship, though slated to make a stop in Karachi, went directly to Bombay presumably to avoid any perceived conflict for all the Hindi having to confront Pakistani custom officials. In fact, one man’s sandals and wallet were found on the stern deck at one point, the belief being that he had jumped overboard perhaps because he was Pakistani (and the boat was not going to Karachi at this point). Maybe he was just tired of his wife! We were told the general rule of thumb about steaming back over our route for some number of hours was not done because of the tensions looming on the horizon.
The trip held so many fascinating snippets of life that I still remember them as clearly as if it were yesterday and wish I could reconnect with the fascinating people we met…the young South African photographer, Richard, headed for adventure eventually with us through a part of India (his father was a territorial governor of Zanzibar), the Irish nurse who had recently left the service of the Ugandan dictator, Milton Obote, a witty American traveler, persistent in keeping us in stitches most of the trip, and all under the caring guise and food stuffer par excellence, Alice, that is Alistair the chief engineer, with special sandwiches for all the “youngsters” in his cabin at 11pm every night (I gained 12 lbs. in a 3 week voyage).
How I would love to find others who have similar memories of such adventures, now almost 50 years past..
I traveled on the Karanja in Mar 1975 with my husband and two children from Mombasa to Bombay, with a stop in Karachi . I have a few very vivid memories and some non-existent. Cannot remember our cabin at all. We changed our idea of traveling with the Indians to first class after viewing the eating/sleeping situation which they endured. We spent morning into early aft schooling the children each day, so had little time to socialize with the crew. Dinners were extravagantly wonder compared to the way we had been traveling by sailboat and then overland in a VW bus. I have a few photos of volleyball teams and ping pong if I could post them. we made friends at the dinner table with Jack and Norma Vance the kids, John Vance and my Jeff and Lori had their own separate table, served elegantly to them also. Special treat of crisp morning bacon fried hard the way American’s like it!
Loved this article found on the internet.
Having travelled on the Karanja and sistership Kampala a few times to india brought back nostalgic memories for which I thank you.
Could you or anyone else know if there is a ’Friends of Karanja’ group or something of that effect where I can read more about these voyages and see any relating memorabilia on the subject
I traveled on the MAJESTIC S.S. KARANJA. In 1963 , I think was January…???. Not sure .
We were in the second class cabins, my whole family.
I loved each and every moment on the SS Karanja…. the memories are LOCKED in my heart like it happened yesterday.
Those were the ten happiest days of my life .
I met many and made many friends.
SS Karanja had set sail from Durban , on to Mombasa. There was a two day stop in Karachi. We toured Karachi, drank tall glasses of freshly made lassi. Then sailed on to Bombay.
If only I could find those wonderful people whom I met on this on this voyage , it will be a MIRACLE but will fill the hunger I have and the longing I have in my heart. Jamila.
Very informative indeed.
Travelled First Class to and fro twice from Beira Mozambique to Bombay in 1965 on SS KARANJA.
Had to go FC because as a student under 17 I had to be in Care Custody of The Captain.
Though memories are hazy life I do agree that the voyage ON SS K was truly leisurely. I am still not aware that BISN had racial profiling in practice. By the way I am an Indian.
Hallo Barry Robert Perkins, I was the same time on the Karanja, but very down floor, just about 2 Meter over water. From Karachi we travelled by our VW-bus back to Austria.
I traveled on the Karanja from Durban 16/03/1976 to Bombay 18/04/1976. 3rd class air con but I was dudded by reading this article was only forced air when the ship was moving. Great trip travelling up the African coast. I shared a cabin with about 8 Indians a lot of the younger ones were going to medical school in India.There was only 3 Europeans in 3rd class until we reached Mombassa. One of those an Englishman probably about 5 years older than me had ridden a BMW from Australia to Sth Africa & was riding it from India to England the bike was onboard. He was writing an article that was being serialized in an Australian Motor Cycle Magazine. No swimming pool it got pretty hot at times. The crew bar would open in the arvo where we could have a drink & the crew would make their own music & invite us to join in. We were fenced off from the 2nd & first class passengers. I was arrested & taken off the ship for taking photographs in Biera.
Am 3. April 1976 brachten wir unsere Fahrzeuge in den Hafen, um die Zollabfertigung durch zu führen. Es ist schon mit Schwierigkeiten verbunden, wenn man in Europa mit dem Zoll zu tun hat, doch hier in Afrika kann es so schlimm werden, dass man noch davon im Bette träumt. Uns ginge es jedenfalls so. Wir starteten morgens um 8 Uhr und benötigten 7 Stunden, um unsere Fahrzeuge durch zu bringen. Wir wurden zweimal von einem Büro zum anderen verwiesen, da offensichtlich noch verschiedene Stempel fehlten und am Ende gelangten wir wieder beim ersten Büro an, und hatten immer noch nichts erreicht. Das Problem war ja noch dazu, dass die einzelnen Büros meistens bis zu 1 km vom anderen entfernt lagen und wir das alles zu Fuss zurück legen mussten. Zufällig lernten wir einen Dock-Arbeiter kennen, welcher uns endlich zeigte, wo wir hin mussten und bekamen dort unseren fehlenden Stempel. Dann ging es relativ einfach. Wir fragten uns von einem Büro wieder zum anderen durch und waren um ca. 15:00 Uhr fertig. Unser Fahrzeug wurde nur oberflächlich geprüft und es reute uns, dass wir nicht das eine oder andere noch mit eingepackt hatten.
Nun gingen wir an Bord der Karanja und suchten unsere Schlafplätze auf. Bei dem Schiff handelte es sich um einen Kahn, welcher schon 28 Jahre auf dem Buckel hatte und auch entsprechend ausgestattet war. Wir hatten die 3. Klasse gebucht und wurden in einem Schlafsaal zusammen mit ca 140 anderen Passagieren, welche offensichtlich nur aus Afrikanern und Indern bestanden, zusammen gepfercht.
Die Betten selbst bestanden nur aus herunterklappbaren Auflagen. Für Matratzen oder anderen weichen Utensilien musste jeder Passagier selbst sorgen. Wir waren froh, unsere zerlegbaren Armeebetten zu besitzen, welche wir dann auf diese Unterlagen stellen und darauf befestigen konnten. So schlief ich den Umständen entsprechend gut, wobei mir noch der unmittelbare Platz neben einem Bullauge zugute kam und ich immer genug frische Luft erhielt.
Die Verpflegung war nicht schlecht und was wichtig war, es gab immer reichlich zu essen.
Das einzig schlimme an der ganzen Sache war eigentlich nur, dass wir als Passagiere der dritten Klasse ausschließlich auf dem Vorschiff uns bewegen durften und die Restaurants in den anderen Decks nicht besuchen durften.
Thanks to all for your wonderful comments.
It was a privilege to travel on the Karanja during her Christmas ‘75 trip and I appreciate all those from the crew who made the voyage so enjoyable.
Travelled on SS Karanja in 1963 – July if I recall. Arrived in Bombay in the monsoon. Had a great time on the ship but was concerned about the racial segregation. I was 15 years old.
I was a passenger on the Karanga from Mobasa to Karachi, passage began on August 27, 1975. It was mid-way through a 2-year vagabond around the world when I was in my early 20s. Fond memories — although not many — of the passage. I was in 3d class, and really enjoyed to comraderie and mix of nationalities. Remember some great poker games in multiple languages; the morning the Sikhs were washing their hair up on the deck, the communal dining. Wish I had pictures.
My wife and I sailed Mombasa to Bombay in 1975, with our Land Rover in the hold. We traveled in four-birth cabins, with the men and women separated. Great food three times a day plus high tea. Indian music on deck at night. I’ll never forget waking up in Bombay Harbor and seeing my car off-loaded by crane later that day. After three months in India we drove back to Paris.
What a wonderful, that just-by-chance, I came across this website, as late last night I was watching a DVD all about the Great Liners circa 50s-90s and that started a chain reaction in me as I sought to find out further information about my particular sea journey from my home port, Mombasa to Goa, in Portuguese-ruled Goa then, in 1956. I have a very, very vague recollection of that journey as I was only six years old then, far more interested running all over the ship, than recording any thing for posterity. Now, I am not 100% certain if it was the SS Amra, as the name rings a bell, or the SS Kampala, or the SS Karanja. All I do know was, we were passengers below decks, 3rd Class, I think, and aided by Kit’s blog, do recall calling in at Karachi, but am not certain how many nights we were there. Or did the ship only make a day stop there. From there, my memory is playing tricks as to whether we sailed directly into Bombay, or to Marmagoa, the harbour in South Goa, after calling in at Bombay, as I do not recall catching a local steamship from Bombay to Goa, as were operating in the late 50s-early 60s, or a railway service that did exist. Nevertheless, reading these blogs on this webpage is absolutely memory-evoking. I do hope somebody can add to what I vaguely can recall and thus I can re-build my memories.
This is part of a longer story about a motor cycle trip I took with two other Peace Corps Volunteers from Lesotho to Wisconsin.
In the final three days of the “Hell Run” the scenery improved greatly. Green mountainsides, rushing rivers, herds of giraffe, elephants, monkeys, baboons and buck, and scores of primitive villages surround the roadway (a USAID project). As we progressed to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, Kenya, the only mishap was an encounter with a swarm of bees. Dave and I both caught bees in our jacket sleeves and suffered multiple stings before we could stop and tear the jackets off. Now, having completed the “Hell Run,” we set up camp in a grove of trees next to a sandy beach on the Indian Ocean a few miles south of Mombasa. Here we took a two week to rest from the first month’s 3500 miles. We rested in hammocks gazing at the blue Indian Ocean and we lived off coconut trees and seafood from local fishermen.
On the fourth of June the S.S. Karanja set sail for Bombay (now Mumbai). This was not a luxury cruise ship. It was part ocean freighter and part basic transportation. Our three motorcycles were deep in her hold and we three riders were not far from them. We’d purchased third class tickets to save money and consequently shared a compartment with 200 Indian passengers near the ship’s hot and noisy engine room. The passengers were mostly students who lived with their families in Africa, returning to schools in India.
Many passengers chose to sleep on the deck in preference to the “dormitory”. We slept on iron bunk cots, three high and separated from the next row of cots by chain link fencing. We left the porthole open for fresh air, and more than once got awoken in the middle of the night by a deluge of warm salt water from a high wave. We were on the sea for about a week and it could have been boring, but we made friends with other international travelers and spent hours playing Charades on the front deck. At night we looked up at a sky full of stars, extra bright because of the lack of city lights in the middle of the ocean. We noticed the Southern Cross Constellation and said good bye to it as we continued to travel northward toward the Big Dipper. During the day we saw vast schools of flying fish skittering across the water in front of the ship.
We docked in Bombay and were allowed to sleep on the ship for the ten days we were in port. This allowed us to explore the amazing city without hotel costs. We shopped in bustling, colorful markets, saw sacred cows lounging in the streets, bumped into thousands of people, and toured the home of Mahatma Gandhi, one of my heroes. We discovered the amazing Indian cuisine. Then the ship continued on to Karachi, Pakistan.
We managed the bureaucracy of getting our motorcycles on shore and started looking for a cheap place to say. We eventually found a YMCA and slept in hammocks on the front porch. Lots of mosquitoes.
Great story Gary I still have fond memories of the voyage from Durban to Bombay
I have good memory of my travels on SS Karanja in 1962 when I was 8 years old and again in 1974 calling at the same ports on the route to Bombay, India. In my last journey I was a backpacker with a group of young adventure tourists for 6 months to go to the east. From 1975 onwards my backpacking adventure travels have been in the west and the middle east. See my story of Karanja journey on — Facebook: — https://www.facebook.com/mansoor.ismail.12935/posts/143090337540215 —
My wife and I sailed on the Karanja from Mombasa to Bombay (now Mumbai) in September of 1974. It stayed in Karachi for two days. One day all of us hiked around the city and the second day many of us played table tennis on board for hours. It was much easier when the ship was in port rather than being thrashed around by waves.
It was a fun bunch of people who were in those 3rd class bunk bed rooms, maybe 25 of us. In my room were two
Swiss, one Kiwi, another American, and an elderly Sikh guy. In my wife’s room was another American woman, an
Indian woman from Goa, and the elderly Sikh guys wife. My wife had been a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in
Tanzania during the 1960s and we returned to the school where she had taught before Kenya and joining the Karanja.
I remember a tiny bar, a tiny library, the table tennis table on deck, the 3rd class dining hall, and the hall way showers which was the only place for intimacy on board with 3rd class. Along for the ride were a great bunch of
backpackers, mostly guys and a few women. Long talks with sharing travel stories and advice. When we disembarked my wife took a slide of the gang of us and now I wish I had more techie abilities to change that into something that
is digital. Old age talking.
We then spent three months in India and several days in both Nepal and Sri Lanka. Then it was across northern
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and on to Turkey. After Turkey it was through the Middle East and then to Egypt and
across northern Africa and often with hitchkiking.
Fun to find this site. Thanks to all who have commented.
My late father Mr Louis.J.Furtado was employed by “Smith Mckenzie ” in Mombasa since the 1950’s and served on “B.I” and “P&O” ship’s as a tally clerk , promoted to “Cargo Supervisor” and finally left Mombasa in 1977 to be employed in “Gray Mackenzie” in Jeddah as a ship supervisor.Hence i was born in Mombasa and lived in the city for 8 l0ng years of my childhood. Our voyages for holiday’s in Bombay would be on “S.S.Karanja( Cabin Class)” as my dad was entitled to free family passage to home country after a certaing time frame of service in Mombasa. Have fond nostalgic memories of this ship as my last migration voyage from Mombasa to Bombay in 1968 was on this ship.Also travelling by ship since childhood aroused my interest in sailing and a seafaring job. Later in life thanks to my school classmate’s dad that i got admission into “Mazagon Dock Ltd” as a 4 year apprentice trainee ” Marine Engineer” and was nostalgic when i once visited this ship now renamed ” Nancowry” for repair work as a trainee marine engineer . As a “Marine Engineer” between the years 1983-2006 have sailed on numerous ships and crossed all oceans having circumnavigated the Globe at least twice. Later in 2006 due to personal reasons took premature retirement from shipping and became my own business owner as a “Entrepreneur Investor”, a entirely different profession from “Marine Engineering” while simultaneously having the time for personal private travel. Indulgence in extreme sports is also a passion i have carried forward from my shipping era having survived a cyclone at sea in 1984.At the time of writing have visited 81 Countries and almost entire India and akin to author Lisa Ellen River hope to cross the 3 figure mark of countries visited. As they say “You never forget your FIRST LOVE” and similarly having sailed on numerous ships during my sea employment it is always that last voyage from Mombasa to Bombay in 1968 on “S.S.Karanja” that remains dearest to my memory bank. The enthusiasm of watching Hindi films on the ship’s deck and the elder’s playing wooden horse race’s on the deck is as fresh as yesterday. Remember stepping ashore in Karachi and Seychelles during the “S.S.Karanja” voyages from Mumbai to Mombasa .I myself have sailed on a few ship’s on their last voyages to the “Ship Graving Yard” and the last photo of “S.S.Karanja” in a terrible junk condition in Bombay now Mumbai waiting to be broken down to pieces filled me with tears.”Change is permanent” in life and should consider myself lucky to have sailed on “S.S.Karanja” during its glory years.Read my travelogues .
I was sailed ss kraanja,from Bombay to dar e salaam,
feb,1st to feb 14