Kenya to India: Memories and an Old Friend from the S.S. Karanja


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 bushA 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.

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education, is a television host, travel journalist as well as a passionate artist, educator and writer who has explored 101 countries, 6 continents and sailed on cruise ships for seven years on the high seas and backpacked for three years in Asia. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which was read in 212 countries in 2018 and named #3 on the top 1000 Travel Blog and the top female travel blogger 3 times in 2019. Find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over one million views on her YouTube channel. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best, is verified on both Twitter and Facebook, has over 150,000 followers across social media and ran fifteen travel competitions publishing over 2500 writers and photographers from 75 countries. She has been a finalist for six Southern California Journalism Awards in the past three years and won an award for her Jewish Journal article. Niver has written for AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres (United Airlines), Jewish Journal, Luxury Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Myanmar Times, National Geographic, POPSUGAR, Robb Report, Saturday Evening Post, Scuba Diver Life, Sierra Club, Ski Utah, Smithsonian, Trivago, USA Today 10best, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 Scary Challenges Before 50,” about her most recent travels and challenges. Look for her underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip.

23 responses to “Kenya to India: Memories and an Old Friend from the S.S. Karanja

  1. From JuW:
    "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!

  2. I was the 2nd Electrical Officer on the Karanja from 1974 to 1975

    Reading this brought back a lot of happy memories



    1. Hi Paul,
      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.

      Happy days!


      1. Oh Wow
        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 !!!
        Ben Evans
        [email protected]

    2. In March 1972 I also travelled on Karanja from Seychelles to Bombay on my way to Australia, Bunk of course.

  3. 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 !

  4. 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.

    1. Hello John,
      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


  5. 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.
    Barbara Bolger

  6. 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.

  7. 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..

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    Kit Herring
    Guantánamo, Cuba

  15. 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.

  16. 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.
    Matthew Chachere

  17. 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.
    Arthur Gottschalk

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