Hyderabad through the eyes of a voyager - Times Of India Syed Mohammed, TNN Jul 24, 2011, 06.16am IST Hyderabad is no stranger to travellers from foreign lands. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the French voyager, set sail for India in the 15th century and arrived in Hyderabad and recorded its unique culture, art and architecture in his Travels in India. More than 500 years later and by a quirk of fate, his countryman Cecilian Deby, rode into Hyderabad on a weathered Royal Enfield Bullet he affectionately calls Arlette. "I had heard of Hyderabad as an IT hub," says the 25-year-old lean hotel management graduate, playing with his blonde braided goatee, "But I had no intentions of visiting because every big city has the same culture and I expected Hyderabad to be no different." He points a finger at his vivaciously coloured bike and continues, "Arlette had a wiring problem and my next destination is Varanasi, more than a thousand kilometres away. I didn't want to take any chances so I decided to make Hyderabad my pitstop." With orange domes, a purple tank and mauve mudguards, Arlette is the quintessential hippie bike and makes heads turn. So much in love with India, Cecilian had an aerial installed on his bike on which flutters the Indian flag. Severely sun-burnt from the travails of his twenty city travel but still cheerful, Cecilian says that riding and discovering cultures of exotic lands are his passion and that no book or illustration can quench this insatiable thirst. "By a quirk of fate I landed in Malakpet," he says, "I needed access to the internet to find a hotel and a mechanic." However, Cecilian's attempt was unsuccessful as he was driven out of the internet cafÃ© by its proprietor because he looked 'suspicious'. After checking into a small lodge in Old Malakpet and while his bike was in the garage, Cecilian had a lot of time to explore the city on foot. He says that the first sight in Hyderabad that befuddled him was a signboard with an illustration of a heavily bandaged Bollywood actor adjacent to a room with at least fifty people waiting in what seemed to be a clinic. Later he found out that it was a Jarrah's clinic. Jarrahs are bone setters and physiotherapists trained in the discipline of Unani medicine, very popular in the Old City. Another oddity, he observes, is the construction of temples and mosques in close proximity to each other. From the temple came the rhythmic chanting of slokas and from the mosque the melodious azan. He expresses his surprise at such a high degree of pluralism and tolerance. "I've befriended both Muslims and Hindus. I've noticed that Muslims speak more about their faith than the Hindus. Perhaps they want to say that they are a peace loving people. But, nevertheless, a conscious effort is made" he says. "Unlike Paris, it is easier to buy cigarettes and tea in Hyderabad at any time of the day and night," he says, "In Paris you have to look for a cigarette shop. Here, these push cart vendors selling tea and smokes are scattered everywhere and do brisk business till early in the morning." Cecilian says that he has noticed a subtle yet distinct change in culture as he travelled from Malakpet through Banjara Hills and into Medchal where he went to have dinner at a dhaba with his set of new friends from Hyderabad. He says the Old City seemed more in sync with the city's culture. Banjara Hills with its gargantuan malls and swanky restaurants was more like a suburb in any big city and Secunderabad with its large and small churches and Victorian architecture still had remnants of its colonial past. "Like many other cities in India, Hyderabad seems to be going through a metamorphosis. It is fighting a pitched battle against the onslaught of the strong forces of monoculture and westernisation. That it wants to retain its cultural identity is evident, but I feel that it will lose." he opines. After his bike was good to go, Cecilian visited temples and dargahs and was surprised to see Hindus devotees at dargahs prostrating and praying. "This place has such an eclectic mix of people adhering to different religions that I find it hard to believe that India has seen the bloodiest of communal riots," he says. He happened to visit the Qutub Shahi Tombs, the resting place of the founders of the city, and was lost in their sheer grandeur. After crossing a group of men serenading their lovers, Cecilian came across a group of mullahs singing beautifully what he later found out were verses from the Quran. The acoustics of the tombs are such that one's voice echoes for at least five seconds making the ambience esoteric. "The imposing structures and the serenity make the place alluring," he says, "Time and again I feel a strong urge to revisit." After living constantly in one place, the effervescent beauty, culture and pluralism of Hyderabad are made pallid by constant reiteration. Perhaps the palette of the keen eyes of a traveller, his objectivity and love to discover are needed to paint a colourful picture of our world.