A Friday morning stroll in Khartoum (part three)

Before leaving the grounds of the Republican Palace Museum, I cast my eyes for a moment on the immense structure of the new Presidential Palace with its imposing arched entrance and domed roof. A little further up the road is Nimeiri’s monument to national unity and the Shuhuda gardens – a square with some sad memories.

But the next obvious landmark is the Central Post Office that stands empty and shuttered on this Friday morning. Many of the rooms on the top floor look from the road to be in a poor repair and now serve as a loft for pigeons that flutter through the open windows. Built later than many of the surrounding buildings of the colonial “Sudan Government” it always seems to me to look slightly out of place as a post office. Perhaps it’s the diminutive balconies or the ostentatious Greek-style columns of this sandstone building that don’t quite seem to fit the setting. Nevertheless, there is a certain charm about the archaic interior and the friendliness of the staff that draws me back even in the age of e-mails and faxes.

Walking diagonally across the street brings me to a strange building that also seems to be hiding its true identity. The single storied building no longer serves as the Khartoum Masonic Hall and there are no compass or squares to remind us of its former purpose. Herbert Kitchener and Reginald Wingate, the first two governor-generals of post Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, were both freemasons and this helps to explain the early establishment of a masonic lodge in Khartoum.

A little further on are two buildings which retain an unmistakable stamp even though they no longer serve their original purpose. On the north side of the street is the former Barclays Bank while nearly opposite is the gold columned building of the former Bank of Sudan. Some of the ministry building along this stretch of the road have retained their grandeur. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Mudiriya building which often flies an enormous Sudanese flag from its roof. Others such as the former offices of the Egyptian Irrigation Department look rather run down and no doubt have a redevelopers eyes on them. It’s an area that seems to be in transition. Nearby are some deserted commercial buildings at the end of Abdel Mounim Avenue. Several large import-export firms such as Geilatly Hankey & Co used to have their offices here but they have long since gone.

At long last I can return to the Nile. My path takes me past the Grand Holiday Villa and the Corinthia Hotel, built on the site of the old Khartoum Zoo. Finally I reach the delightful garden at the Askala Café at the former Mogran Quay. There’s time to enjoy a cold drink at a table in the shade while watching boats come and go on the slowly flowing river.

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