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Adrian Blomfield takes a walk through the Nairobi neighbourhoods of Pangani and Ngara, and discovers there is much more to them than meets the eye. The Swahili porters and Punjabi railwaymen who settled the forested river valleys east of Nairobi in the late 19th century would be utterly bewildered by them today.
Sprawling and unkempt, the once colourful history of Pangani and Ngara is barely discernible now, swamped in breeze block and urban deprivation. Yet peer beneath the neglect and it is still possible to glimpse the past amid the drab tenements and chaotic vibrancy — appealing in its own way — of the present. Many relied on prostitution and selling moonshine to survive. The uprising was in vain. Our suggested walk best navigated via Google maps starts at the Pangani Mosque , built by Punjabi railway contractors in Almost invisible until one is right on top of it, the brilliant white of the facade, the sun glinting off its minarets and mashrabiya windows, startles amid the surrounding monochrome.
The mosque, which follows the Sunni Hanafi tradition, welcomes non-Muslim visitors. The carpeted interior, with its filigree-inlaid prayer-niche, is charming and peaceful.
Abdulali Alibhai Mithaiwalla, a Bohra Muslim from Gujarat, began selling Indian sweets and savouries from a rickshaw in Pangani in the mids, before his family opened the present premises in the s. At the northwestern end of Pangani Market is another colonial-era institution, the Liberty Cinema.
Films are no longer shown but KCSE set texts are frequently staged and ushers will let you stand at the back. Visitors entering the prayer halls must cover their heads and remove footwear. Leaving the temple, head down Park Road past the Guru Nanak Hospital and a cluster of colonial-era civil service bungalows on your right. You are now in Ngara. This extraordinary building fell into disrepair in the s, becoming a squat for street kids, after the bank foreclosed on the Shan Family.