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.

Please comment below and enjoy these related articles

11 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.

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