December 29, 2008

Memories of Central Asia

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I woke up in the middle of the night today, having fallen asleep on my couch out of fatigue. As my eyes began to focus, the first images that I saw on the TV looked really familiar. Suddenly it hits me: it's one of the medressas in Bukhara!

A quick check tells me that the movie is The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam. So it's a movie about the famous Persian poet/mathematician/astronomer. I had come across Omar Khayyam while researching for my Central Asia trip earlier this year, but this was in his capacity as a poet and author of the Rubaiyat. Later while touring the Ulugbek Observatory in Samarkand, there were displays of Omar Khayyam's portraits as well as copies of his work in astronomy and mathematics.


The movie was obviously an embellished account of the life of Omar Khayyam as well as the popular story linking Omar Khayyam with Hassan-i-Sabah, the founder of the original band of assasins - the Hashshashin. The plot is moderately entertaining. But whatever the reality behind the story, it's a movie which talks about a few key figures during the Persian/Seljukid era. Morever it is shot mostly in Bukhara and Samarkand, two of the most beautiful cities in Uzbekistan.

Now that it's been 6 months since my trip, it's pretty exciting to see footage of the Registan Square - the Ulugbek Medressa and especially the glittering Tilla-Kari Medressa - as well as Bibi Khanym Mosque, Kalon Mosque and its minaret, the Ark in Bukhara...

So who cares if all of the backdrop was built some 4-5 centuries after the time of Omar Khayyam, and also some 1-2,000 km away from where he would have been? I suppose it would be much more difficult to film this in Esfahan in Iran, compared to the tourist-friendly Uzbekistan... For people who have never been to this part of the world, the movie gives a glimpse of the beautiful Islamic architecture - located in two cities which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

As for me, all the images evoke wonderful memories from earlier in the year, and remind me that all the hardship endured on the trip were well worth it. I have seen these sites with my own eyes, and hopefully the memories will stay with me for a very long time.

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