The Mystic of Mackinnon Road

Mackinnon Road train station lies along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway near Mariakani town. The most outstanding landmark here is the Mackinnon Road Mosque that was built as a result of the tomb of Seyyid Baghali, who was a foreman at the time of building the railway fabled for his tremendous strength and according to many, charmed lifestyle.

Travellers, regardless of religion or colour have been making stop overs at the shrine long before independence and are pulling up at the sight to this day.

Legend has it that Baghali was a saint whose family tree traced back to the Holy Prophet, a fact that he tried to conceal from the public to no avail. For when he got tired of carrying stones, his ‘laden karai’ (vessel) would float above his head to the consternation of many.

By 1940s, when the grave was still covered in bushes, travellers would stop there and ask for boons and generally attribute their safety during their journey to the holy man buried at the tomb. The news spread, a legend started and a reputation of the place grew.

People later claimed that Baghali would communicate with man-eaters (lions) who were terrorising the Indian workers and order them to relocate saving the lives of his colleagues.

Read more at: The Mosque that Serves all


The Mystic of Mackinnon Road

veiled by bougainvillea within sacred alabastrine walls
travellers pause, seek fragrant blessings for onward journeys

the iron snake tracks through unforgiving terrains
yet you walk as though treading on rose petals
stone laden karai floats over you in reverence, a halo?
the python consents to your prayers
even the man-eaters daren’t cross perimeters

forgive my impertinence
my persistence, my obstinance
O Mystic of Mackinnon Road, I discovered

a secret divine within the Lunatic Line’s shrine…
those who dare transcend the limits of possibility
remain indifferent to accusations of insanity


This was a very difficult poem to write. Would have never considered writing it, except that it was an assignment which was due for our workshop of creating poetry with local content. In researching, I came across interesting new stories and people.

I remember stopping at Mackinnon rd mosque whenever we travelled to Mombasa by road, even the public buses and train would hoot or whistle and slow down to pay their respects and be assured of a safe journey.

Syed Baghali was known to understand and speak the language of animals. On one occasion, when the working party was around the area of Mackinnon,  a huge python appeared. It was ready to strike at anyone who dared to approach it. Some of the labourers and one of the Englishmen got ready with their lathis (sticks) and gun to shoot it.

Pir Baghali begged them not to harm the python. He faced the snake and pleaded with it to leave. The snake stood for a while, poised to attack, but shortly after, it gradually backed down and slithered away.

It is said he also kept the lions away and the labourers in his camp remained safe.

~Excerpt from the book Oral Literature of the Asians in East Africa by Mubina Hassanali Kirmani and Sanaullah Kirmani

Read also about The strange history of the man-eating lions of Tsavo

You will enjoy this wonderful Photo Essay on the Lunatic Express

When I remember Kenya, I will think of trains. Not because I saw so many of them and not because I travelled in one. But the Kenya the world knows today would not exist except for a rail line that, during its design and construction, was considered such a bad idea it was dubbed the Lunatic Line.

Maybe it was crazy and maybe it was not.

~ A Train Called the Lunatic Express

I just wanted to say a little more about the final couplet in my poem

those who dare transcend the limits of possibility
remain indifferent to accusations of insanity

To break through the self-imposed limits of possibility, to create new possibilities we must step away from our inhibitions and embrace a touch of madness, for

only the insane are truly liberated

And to sign off, here is a delightful song by the very talented and versatile Rahi Bains. I had the pleasure to come across Rahi ji and his music during my research. You will get to see the quaint Mackinnon road mosque in this video, enjoy the song.


( Continuation The Padre’s Shroud , a follow up poem where I had to be an object in the myth)

32 thoughts on “The Mystic of Mackinnon Road

  1. Beautifully written Sonya. We have been visiting the shrine since childhood . It will always be a part of my childhood memories as we were not allowed to continue our journey to Mombasa without praying there.


  2. I’m in consternation, wonderment, and supplication; that there are people , other than me, in this wide world where belief and faith comes in a chosen few, there are people who know this phenomenon; I always thought I was the only one who had had a first hand experience of this healing spot.
    I had a nagging ‘Unwellness ‘ that had defied many physicians, almost ‘ to live with it state ‘ till my parents not so saint minded, drove me here, and asked the spirit to bless with a cure ; I was asked how many years respite do you want …. and lo and behold, till beyond half a century, todate, I don’t know what ailment that was !
    Syed A Khurazmi
    London/ Islbd
    Cyed001 @yahoo . com


  3. Hi thanks for your beautiful presentations on Sultan Hamud station. As part of the Chuma ngumu community that worked those rails Asante sana. The stories capture a time that is rarely known. it is therefore most informative and enriching.


  4. This is not just a story, it is a fact. Thank you Sonya for sharing it. I am from Tanzania, all my three brothers passed away right after birth due to some reason then few years later my elder sister was born. As ouir indian tradition is if you do not give birth to a male child you are considered childless and are taunted every passing day of your life, same was experienced by my parents.
    They then heard about the pir baghali darga and prayed for a boon, finally my mom conceived and it was a baby boy (me). Though i had to fight for life since birth but what i am today is because of pir baghali.


  5. I have also made several stop-overs at the mosque,experienced the warmth and tranquility of the place,I’ve also heard about some of the stories and much more of the walii,Mashallah.Good read.keep it up.


  6. I love it when you say a little about your poems. I know you want the reader to interpret it the way they feel to, but some of us love knowing how you interpret it or how you came to choose those lines. Another beautiful post 💛


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