Saddam Shah, 24, chants Sanskriti shlokas effortlessly, as he takes around a group of tourists in Pachmarhi, a hilly town which has a large number of Hindu shrines mostly that of Lord Shiva.
Shah belongs to one of the 60 Muslim families whose members work as guides and drivers for generations in Pachmarhi, known as Satpura Ki Rani (Queen of Satpura). For them, job takes precedence over religion.
"I have been working as guide for past six to seven years. I have no problem entering into a Hindu temple or folding our hands before a Hindu deity. Ultimately, all religions teach us humanity," says Shah.
When asked how did he gain knowledge about Hindu shrines especially Chauragarh temple, Bade Mahadev, Mahadev Gufa and Parwati Gufa, he says, "I was first taught by two persons, Shankar Lal and Shahid Khan, who both are guides."
"Later, I purchased a book and read. Besides, the profession of guide is in my blood. My father and three brothers work as guide."
Shahid Khan, 30, chairman of the Guide Committee, Pachmarhi, says, "We have been doing this (the guide’s job) for generations. We ensure that tourist should not be given wrong information about shrines, which is pride of our town."
"It does not matter whether a Hindu is narrating myths and legends of shrines or a Muslim. Here, both Hindus and Muslims are working as guides and we all treat each other as family members."
Another guide Shahbaj Shah says, "We treat these temples as our own temples because these are pride of our town. At times, many tourists get surprised when they come to know that we are Muslims. But they also appreciate us and perhaps they return with a lesson on how Hindus and Muslims are living in Pachmarhi."
Interestingly, head priest of all three important temples of Lord Shiva in Pachmarhi, Baba Garib Das has a great penchant for 786, a number considered lucky in Muslim community.
Das has two vehicles with their registration numbers containing 786, not because of any coincidence, but he has purchased the special numbers from the regional transport department. "Last three digits of Baba's mobile number are also 786. Baba considers this number as lucky number," says a priest at Mahadev Gufa.