This is part of a series of posts where I look back at some of my favourite pictures from different cities that I have visited. You can read the rest of the series here.
In this article I look back at another pre-lockdown trip to the capital of Kenya and my first real trip to the African continent. It's one of my favourite cities, and certainly one I'd love to visit again. If you want to read my in-depth review of Nairobi you can do so here, or if you're a little short on time, you can read the 5 things I loved about Nairobi here, otherwise click the read more button below to check out some photos.
Travel advice for Sikhs
Kenya is a hub of Sikhi on the African continent, and in the middle of the 20th century supported one of the largest Sikh diasporas around the world. Sikhs first arrived in east Africa in the late 19th century and settled in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where they quickly rose to positions of prominence. Many Sikhs left for countries like the UK and Canada during the latter part of the 20th century due to political instability but a large Sikh population remains in Kenya, particularly in Nairobi. This means you don't get any funny looks and no issues at the airport.
First things first - look at that greenery. I've been lucky enough to visit cities around the world, and I was taken back by just how green Nairobi is. There aren't many cities that can provide a view like the one above and it's one of my favourite photos from any city that I've visited.
Rooftop views are a great way of getting a perspective on cityscape, and Nairobi is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day. The thing that struck me was just how much less light pollution there is, even in the city centre.
But it's not all green and beautiful - the central business district is packed full of traffic, pedestrians and a lot of grey/brown buildings. The pollution can be suffocating, particularly if you're stuck in the bus station, surrounded by busses with their engines on spreading toxic fumes in all directions.
But within the chaos and heat of the CBD is an oasis of peace and quiet. The Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Nairobi is one of the oldest and largest in the city. The beautiful dome of the exterior rises above the walls of Gurdwara so you can see it from surrounding areas, while inside the mid 20th century architecture means its one of the more unique Gurdwaras I have been lucky enough to visit.
Africa has more genetic diversity as a continent than the rest of the world combined. It's made up of many nationalities, ethnicities and groups and is more different from country to country than almost anywhere else on the planet. Yet in the West, we are fed one unified narrative of Africa as a whole (just as we are about the Middle East, the Subcontinent etc.)
Kenya has one of the larger economies in east Africa and there's a large and growing middle class in Nairobi which has a nightlife and culture that surpasses many European cities.
CJ's is popular with the European crowd, and it's not hard to see why. Tables on the balcony provide views of the busy streets, while on the inside the opulent decorations made me appreciate the many perspectives of this city.
Honestly, the nightlife is good. The demographics of the city are quite young, and that youthful energy coupled with a temperate climate means there are a lot of outdoor places to kick back and chill after sunset.
But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Kenya might be growing quickly, but it still remains a developing country with a lot of wealth inequality and that means there is a very real poverty issue that permeates through the city.
Kibera is like a city within a city and when people come to Nairobi from other parts of Kenya or neighbouring countries, many end up here. Even in these cramped streets, there are flashes of colour which brighten what is a desperately poor part of Nairobi.
How many capital cities have a national park within their boundaries? Seriously, Nairobi National Park is special, and contains the big 5 safari animals of Africa. While I got to see some of them, unfortunately no lions (more on that next), but we did get very close to these gazelles.
Here's why I didn't see lions. On our way to catch up with a pride that was sighted, a car ahead of us had got stuck in the mud. It took a long time for it to be freed, at which point the lions had moved on, and we turned back.
I'm not a big fan of centres that hold big animals - particularly some of the elephant and tiger centres in south-east Asia. But Kenyans do things properly. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust cares for orphaned elephants. In order to run the centre, it needs visitors, but they are limited to just an hour each day to limit human-elephant interactions. And thankfully, it doesn't allow messed up tourist things like riding beaten elephants. You admire from a distance - but every so often, curious elephants will come close to you and let you pat them, like this little on here.
The Giraffe Centre nearby is a little more hands on. Have you ever felt the tongue of a giraffe? Not something I expected to say yes to until I visited this place. In case you are wondering, it's very sticky.
I think of London as being very distinct from area to area, but in Nairobi you can be in a leafy built up gated community in one moment, and a more open and sandy environment the next. But it seemed no matter where we went, we were never too far from street vendors or money agents (these individuals literally keep the economy ticking through their mobile money platforms that connects many Kenyans to the country's growing financial sector).
One way of avoiding the traffic is jumping on the back of the one of many 'motorcycle taxis' in the city. It's not for the faint of heart though as the motorbikes weave in and out of traffic.
I even managed to take part in my first ever yoga session. The Africa Yoga project trains local yogis and is an excellent initiative. I'm probably the most inflexible human on the planet, so I really struggled - but it's something I'll be taking up once lockdown is over.
I'm a huge fan of this city, and I hope I can visit again to explore more of Nairobi. The thing about visiting a place for a few days is that while you get to see some famous landmarks, it's hard to really get under the hood of a city - and Nairobi is a city I'd like to get know better.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.