Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 February 2009
Issue No. 933
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Snap shots


LOVE. The ultimate goal we all pursue for as long as we are alive. It is a gift that not all are blessed with, and while those who are might along the way lose their beloved, the memory of their passion forever lingers. Mohamed El-Hebeishy visits Aswan and pays tribute to an unforgettable love story that left behind a legacy of the red rose.

Great love stories reserve a place in every culture and every nation across time. Some wither and die as their civilisation descends to oblivion. Other stories engrave their letters on the plate of immortality. Romeo and Juliet; Pharaoh Queen Cleopatra, who committed suicide for no other reason but love; the unmatched fidelity of Shah Jahan to his wife Mumtaz Mahal -- after all, he built her one of the greatest mausoleums ever -- the Taj Mahal. These are all stories of love, great love.

But one doesn't need to go as far as India to see a unique historical demonstration of love and dedication. There is one right here -- in Aswan. On 9 October 1944 a marriage ceremony bounded Yvonne Blanche Labrousse and Mohamed Shah for life, or perhaps for eternity. Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah was a renowned politician who founded the All Muslim India League, and later played a key role in establishing Pakistan. He was also a pious man who headed the Shia Ismaili sect. Sultan Mohamed Shah is better known as Aga Khan III. Coming from an utterly different culture and background, Yvonne Blanche Labrousse (also referred to as Yvette) was crowned Miss France in 1930. After marrying the sultan, she became known as Begèm Aga Khan Umm Habiba (Little mother of the beloved).

Aga Khan passed away in 1957, and for each and every single day for the next 40 years, the Begèm kept a sacred custom during her three- month winter stay in Egypt. She would wake up in the morning, visit his grave and honour it with a red rose. And, while away, her gardener would continue the ritual on her behalf. The Khan is buried in the mausoleum bearing his name in Aswan (upper left corner of the picture).

If you really want to celebrate Valentine's Day with a touch of storybook romance, there is no better place than Aswan. I'm sure you'll agree.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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