Guest post by Sotantar Sood who lived in Kenya until the mid-1960s, attended Allidina Visram High School and returned to Kenya recently after 46 years. Sotantar currently lives in Canada with his family

In February and March of 2012, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in India followed by 3 weeks in Kenya. We go to India every 1 to 2 years to visit my wife’s side of the family. On this trip, after spending 2 weeks in India, we connected to Kenya via Mumbai, on a trip which I called my “pilgrimage of nostalgia”.

This trip had been due for 46 years. After completing “A” Levels at Allidina Visram High School in Mombasa, I had left for Leeds University in 1965. I returned a year later, somehow having managed to wrangle a summer job at the Bamburi Cement Factory. Soon after, in 1967, my father’s retirement came up and my parents left to spend their retired years in India. All of a sudden, there were no family ties pulling me back to Kenya and I felt free to explore and settle anywhere in the world.

However, I was left with a treasure trove of memories to cherish for a lifetime. Mombasa somehow managed to make an appearance regularly in my dreams. Usually this was about swimming in the warm waters, or wandering through familiar streets – the scenery frozen in a time capsule of my mind. During waking hours, I would sometimes daydream about slow languid evenings by the sea, the abandoned ice-factory on Tudor Creek which was our own private retreat where me and my friends could skim stones on the water and also try to bring down mangoes from the wild mango trees. Tropical fruits like guavas, ber, victoria, treats like roasted mohogo (cassava) with chili and lime. Memories of swimming in our own isolated crushed shell beach and crystal clear warm, sea water.

Looking at Google Earth, I could visualize some of the changes that had occurred over time – but still, the excitement built when I stepped into the sunshine at Mombasa Airport – a flood of memories came rushing back, making me eager for the drive through town to our hotel in Bamburi.

View of Old Town from Nyali Bridge

Driving from the Airport through Changamwe and over the Makupa Causeway gave me the first inkling of the impact of population growth on the City and surroundings. Changamwe was all built up – not what I remembered. The Makupa roundabout was recognizable, but barely. The intersection of Ziwani Road and Makupa Road is now termed “Saba Saba”. I was born in a house just off this intersection – but it seems that the area has changed more in the last 40 years than in the previous 200 years. Going over the new Nyali bridge, one has to pass by the old Allidina grounds. It is hard to figure out from the road where the grounds used to be . Looking at Google Earth, one can see that there is still some open space where the open grounds once stood – but there are now buildings fronting on Ziwani Road.

Bamburi at sunrise


Our 5 day stay at Whitesands was pretty comfortable – though Bamburi beach is not the quiet, uncrowded place that it was during our school days. Contrary to reports, we did not get hassled by hawkers on the beach. We enjoyed the fresh mangoes, coconuts and Tusker every day – and morning jogs on the beach to get rid of the excess calories. On the following Sunday, I finally completed the main task of our visit – an excursion into town with a car and driver.

Of course, our starting point of interest was Allidina Visram High School – where I had spent 6 formative, wonderful years, received a first class education, played on the championship hockey team and even taught chemistry for 6 months prior to going to University….. I didn’t even recognize the entrance to the School – it was completely fenced off with a small sign announcing the school’s presence – not the open, wide space that I remember. On the road to the old Nyali Bridge are a cluster of auto repair shops, almost stacked one on top of the other. We talked the watchman into letting us in to have a look at the school. Being Sunday, the school was closed – so we could take our time to check it out.

A once spectacular view from the school now obstructed by wire fence

Inside the gate, along the side of the access road, there are homes/huts built for the caretaker and families. This all used to be open space. The school building itself seems to be intact, but there are obvious signs of disrepair. We walked to the front of the school and took some pictures. There is still a wonderful view of the Channel and the open sea, but this is somewhat marred by a wire fence (for security reasons, I suppose) going all the way around to the steps which the Scouts had built. We couldn’t go into the school, it being Sunday. However, the school exterior retains its original impressive facade.


The image above shows me in front of the school

After wandering around for about an hour, we tipped the watchman and proceeded past where I went to Primary School (Mbheni, Kaloleni) and where the Teachers Training College used to be. We turned right and proceeded past the Municipal Stadium, opposite which are now bars, shops and crowded apartments. We all remember the Stadium – this is where the school used to hold Sports Day and where I tried my best in the athletic events, where Seraphino Antao used to train on the cinder track …which eventually resulted in a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 100m, where I saw Kip Keino win the Kenya Championships before he won Olympic Golds.

Hobbly Road Quarters


Then onwards to Hobbly Road quarters. These quarters are still there but look older but also somehow, smaller. We used to live near the quarters, within a short walk to Allidina Grounds. I found the building, but the front is totally different now. The old jamun tree is long gone. There is no empty lot at the side or back of the house. It seems that Mombasa Island has gone in one direction – which is downhill. ..what a pity! In that sense, people who left can justifiably feel vindicated, but there are still pangs of sadness at what used to be, and what is there now. The house that I was born in still sits near the intersection of Ziwani Rd and Makupa Rd. There used to be a huge mango tree at the front, together with a couple of coconut trees and an empty lot at the side with another wild mango tree. The front of the house just had a dirt road – but we did not know any different, and to us, it was heaven as we had plenty of space to play plus neighbours who knew each other very well. As a bonus, there was free fruit in season as well the mango tree to climb. Unfortunately, all that is visible of the house is the corrugated iron roof. There is a tight concrete fence around the house with an iron gate – for security reasons, I presume. The dirt road is paved over and there are no trees any more, just the sun beating down relentlessly.

McKinnon Market - where one bought the freshest fruits, vegetables, meat and fish

Driving into town, we took the mandatory picture at the tusks on Kilindini Rd.. This was followed by a drive to Fort Jesus and the Lighthouse. I noticed that Mama Ngina Drive near the Lighthouse was still attractive, but there are many more stalls as you get closer to Likoni Ferry. The Ferry itself is a disaster in the sense that there is a few hours of wait before you can get on to the Ferry resulting in cars, people being backed up in a long queue.

I must say that Nyali area on the mainland is very nicely developed in comparison to the Island. There are some beautiful, large properties, with a nice view of the Nyali channel. We had dinner with a school class mate – his house has a fantastic view of the Channel overlooking Old Town and receiving a daily dose of beautiful sunsets. There are also has some prestigious schools such as the Mombasa Academy and a large and beautiful Hare Krishna Temple, plus the Nyali Golf course nearby. So, people with means can still enjoy a nice life – however, petty crime is a bit of an issue.

After about 5 days in Mombasa, we headed off to Nairobi for a day with my wife’s cousin and then went on Safari for about a week. The Safari was wonderful and to be highly recommended. The various lodges that we stayed at are all up to international standards, and so is the service. Our itinerary covered Mt. Kenya Safari Club, Sweetwaters tented camp in Laikipia, Lion Hill Lodge at Lake Nakuru and of course, Masai Mara Game reserve. Although it was the dry season , we did manage to see quite a lot of game, including the “Big 5″. The Rift Valley is spectacular and the vistas in Masai Mara are compelling. Well worth the bone jarring drive from Narok to the Mara.

After the Safari, we had 5 days in Nairobi. I must say that despite being warned about crime rates, we did not feel particularly unsafe – the restaurants, shopping malls are quite modern and crowded in the evenings. Of course, everyone lives in gated communities with security guards being “de rigueur”. We met some distant relatives who claim that they are “living in heaven” and that “you people in North America work too hard”. On the other hand, I would find it difficult to settle in Nairobi because of the traffic jams, the endemic shortage of water and the nagging insecurity due to petty and not-so-petty crimes.

So it was not with a heavy heart that we departed for Mumbai in order to catch our flight back to Toronto. We were thankful for an amazing , nostalgic, unique trip, but also glad to be going home. At my age, I cannot afford to wait for another 46 years for the next visit – so I have a feeling that we will be going back sometime fairly soon in the forthcoming future!

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11 Responses to “My pilgrimage of nostalgia”

  1. TJ says:

    Sotantar, I did not know you lived in the Hobbly Road quarters. You will recall there were three rows of quarters. The first row faced a playground and the last row was next to the stadium. We lived for a while in the first row and then moved to quarters in the row near the stadium. In 1959 or 1960, we moved to an independent house off Tudor Road.

    When I visited Kenya in 1996 with my wife and son – after a break of 34 years – we actually went to the house where we lived in those quarters next to the stadium. The current occupants were gracious and invited us inside after I told them that I lived there in the fifties. What struck me the most was how small the house was – there were two relatively small bedrooms and my parents lived in that house with five children!

    The amenities were very basic but we were contented with what we had – there was no feeling of deprivation. It was a different era and I know that we all look back with a sense of nostalgia on what was a very happy period in our lives.

  2. Narendra P Patel says:

    Very interesting reading.Brings back a lot of memories.I was born on Hobbly road quarters,infact,the first corner quarter near the stadium.I attended AVHS from 1961-1964.
    I am still practiciung Radiology, here in NEWBURGH,NEW YORK.Never went back to Mombasa.Like to go back one of these days,and be very disappointed.
    Like to meet my classmates whereever they may be.
    My nickname is AKU.
    Hope to hear from some of you.

  3. TJ says:

    Hi Narenda, you started at AVHS about the time that I completed by studies there – though my brother George Joseph was a teacher during your stint.

    We lived in the second house in the row of houses opposite the stadium before we moved to Tudor Road. During a visit to Kenya – my first after I left in 1962 – we actually went to that house and the occupants graciously invited us in when I explained that I wanted my wife and son to see where I lived through much of my childhood.

    This particular posting by Sotantor was to some extent triggered by the original one that I made quite a while ago regarding my memories of the time I spent at AVHS. The original entry which can be seen in the link below, generated more responses than I ever imagined would occur and has been instrumental in many former AVHS students re-establishing contact with each other.

    http://www.josephclan.com/tjblog/?p=692

  4. Harshad Patel says:

    Hi,
    I was searching for my old friend SotantarSood . I Googled his name and found this article. I saw his picture–and he is the guy. If you can have him e-mail to me if it is ok.
    Thanks.

  5. marie says:

    Hi i was just wondering if anybody knew the principal of Allidina High during the british..My grandfathers name was Alois John ..he was the principal of that school before 1957

  6. Gulab Mistry says:

    I think of AVHS frequently having spent some of the best times of my academic life for ‘O’Levels from 1961 to 1964. Narendra P Patel seems to have been there during the same perios but somehow I can’t recall. But then we had two streams I and II for Sci and Arts. May be he was in the Arts stream.

    Haven’t been there but whenever chance arises, say some ex-Allidinian visit me then we go through four School’s annual books for 1961 to 1964 that I have. When I read some of the articles and look at pictures in it, it reminds me of the good old days in the reign of Mr W C Davies as the principal, Mr Pereira as the Vice-P and just to name few likes of Mr Talwar, Mr Pritam Singh, Mr RS & SI Patels, Mr Izaz Ali, Mr D’Souza and Mr Lucas Remedios, the coach who taught me how to run and I am still running. And talking about running, my main adversaries were MoshinKhan, Teja Singh, and Dhanji Velani in Intermediate Group for 440 and 880 yds (note: yards in those days and not meters).

    Well, those are the memories and which will never get wiped out and remain forever. I haven’t been there either since leaving in 1965 but still have couple of friends there.

    Hope this adds to your respective memories and experiences. By the way, we lived on Mwambe Tayari Rd, opposite Navnat Vanik Samaj; not far from Mombasa Station.

  7. Jayantilal A Surti says:

    I was at Allidina between 1960 and 1965 – completed O Levels and A Levels before coming to Birmingham to study Civil engineering.
    I still have photos of the class

    Classmates – Harish Rupani, Dilip Gor, Mukund Patel, Raman Chauhan, Praful Patel, Gulamali Punju, Osman Miyangy, Kamaljit Sagoo, Amratlal Shah, Chunilal Shah, Chandrakant H Shah(Late), chandrakant J Shah and many other.

    Nice to hear from old Allidinians

  8. Himat Mistry (Kirit) says:

    I attended Allidina Visram High School from approx 1960 – 1965
    in March 1969 at the age of 20 years I was kicked out of Kenya, I would love to be able to contact some of my old school friends. I live in Rossendale Lancashire

  9. Himat Mistry (Kirit) says:

    Is there any reunions in the u.k.

  10. Dr. Navin R. Vyas says:

    Hi all from AVHS. Yes! for me too going through the pictures of Mombasa I suddenly saw this snap Oh my god I could recollect how we used to have the morning prayers, with the full staff. Yes the Principals during my time were: Mr. Bassin, then came Mr. Saddique, and the last one was Mr. W. C. Davis. Born in Mombasa, my house was very near the ivory TUSKS on the main road which was called Kilindini Road. I went to Kikowani High School, then in AVHS. I attented AVHS from 1958 t0 1962. I got my O level went to Delhi for Pre-Medical course in Delhi University, got admitted at S. N. Medical College Agra. Passed my MBBS in 1969, passed MS in Gen. Surgery in 1972. I got married in Mumbai, then started my consulting as a Gen. Surgeon in 1973 to 2009. Now I am retired after 45 years of Surgery practice. I would be very happy to connect with my d friends, do mail me at navinvyas@hotmail.com

  11. Prakash Mehta says:

    Would TJ stand for Thomas Joseph?

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