Dear Uzbekistan

Many, many years ago there was once a quiet, little girl who was happiest among books, especially picture books. She hadn’t yet learned to read, and would always be asking her family members to explain what she was ‘reading’.

One day, her father came home with a stack of magazines. The little girl went through them all, one by one. She was particularly mesmerised by the cover of one of the magazines. It had a picture of a blue dome against an even bluer sky, and she liked it so much that she wanted to see the dome for real.

Uzbekistan, Samarkand, Samarqand, Blue ribbed domeShe went up to her father and told him of her intention. Her father looked at the magazine cover and said, “This is in a place called Samarqand. You want to go to there?”

The girl nodded.

“It’s quite far from here. Why don’t you wait till you are grown up?”

“Okay,” said the little girl. “I will go to Samarqand when I grow up.”

The years went by. The little girl grew up, the magazine got misplaced, her father passed away, but the blue dome of Samarqand and her dream of seeing it was not forgotten. Friends and family, who knew of this, would often ask when she was visiting Samarqand. Her answer always was, “I don’t know when. All I know is that one day I will.”

That day came four decades after she had first declared her intention to visit Samarqand. Last month, the now not-so-little girl made that trip to Samarqand and other places in Uzbekistan. There was a touch of the unreal when her plane landed in Tashkent and she couldn’t help but wonder if she was part of a dream. The fresh, cold air that hit her when she exited the aircraft convinced her that this was no dream, but the real thing ! :)

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Museum Treasure: Ulugh Beg’s cup

What if I were to tell that there exists a cup so mystical and magical that it has the power of detecting poison. Would you believe me? No? I thought not, and honestly I wouldn’t believe it if someone had told me about this.

But nevertheless, such a cup did exist about six centuries ago in Central Asia. It was a time of great upheaval and power struggle in the region when old dynasties were giving way to the new. Often caught in the crossfire of the conflict between the East and the West, it was also a time of great suspicion, prejudice and uncertainties in this region. Such an atmosphere was perfect for beliefs in charms and talismans to take root and grow. And the belief in protection was vested in Jade, a compact, opaque gemstone ranging in color from dark green to almost white. According to Central Asian belief, jade could detect poison and could also protect one from illness, earthquakes and lightning. Soldiers from this region often decorated their swords, belts and saddles with jade.

So, to get back our the story of the cup with the power to detect poison… it is made of jade and once belonged to the mathematician, astronomer and prince of the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg. Today, that jade cup is an exhibit in the Islāmic Room of the British Museum in London.

Ulugh Beg’s Jade Cup

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