An encounter with Ashok By Susan...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

March 18, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

An encounter with Ashok

By Susan Linthicum

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My boyfriend and I recently returned to the United States after a yearlong trip around the world. We learned one of our most valuable lessons during the first week of the trip, our sixth day in India.

We were in the town of Aurangabad, a few hours by train northeast of Bombay. We hired a rickshaw for the day to take us to several of the local sights. We were charged 300 rupees (about $6.45) for a seven-hour tour. Our driver, Ashok, was exceptional. He spoke six languages, four of which he had learned from interacting with tourists. He was a terrific guide, personable and informative.

My boyfriend is British, and when we mentioned this to Ashok, he said he had a sister who lives in England. We asked him if he had ever visited her there. Ashok explained how impossible it would be for him to visit England. He earns around $7 a day. He has a family of five to support. His rickshaw cost $5,000, and he is still trying to pay back his bank loan for that.

A plane ticket to Britain from India would probably cost him an entire year's salary. And when he got to Britain, the exchange rate would be crippling. Ashok earns the equivalent of 5 British pounds a day. Five pounds does not go very far in Britain: it will buy you a nice pub lunch (without drink). It is not enough to get you to a movie, and it will barely get you across London on public transport. We got the idea. Ashok would not be leaving India any time soon.

It was humbling for us to realize that traveling to far-off lands, a possibility many of us in the West take for granted, is an impossibility for so many others. It opened our eyes to how fortunate we were to have this opportunity to explore other cultures.

Ashok's words made us acutely aware that our mere presence in certain countries indicated to the locals that we had more monetary wealth than they could ever hope to attain. This was not cause for pity or shame on anyone's part. It was, however, important for us, the tourists, to be aware of how lucky we are, and to remember how much we have and how much we often take for granted. It was also a call to us to have that much more compassion for those who are struggling to make ends meet, not just in India, but everywhere.

We held the memory of Ashok and his words dear to us for the rest of our trip. The lesson we learned from him made our travels that much more fulfilling. I wish we could go back and thank him.

Susan Linthicum lives in Alexandria, Va.

MY BEST SHOT

Worth the effort

By Henry Szymanski, Baltimore

My wife and I, both in our early 70s, had driven across the Continental Divide from Canada Alberta to Mount Robson Provincial Park in nearby British Columbia. After hiking about three miles along an uphill trail, we were rewarded with this spectacular view of Kinney Lake in the Canadian Rockies.

READERS RECOMMENT

Normandy, France

Natalie Schneider, Annapolis

"On the way to Mont St. Michel, we passed the World War II cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy. We were surprised at how beautiful and serene it was, with well-tended graves, lovely plantings and statues. We were fortunate enough to witness the closing ceremony: one man playing taps while another lowered the American flag against the sunset."

Sunset Beach, N.C.

Karen Wallace, Baltimore

"Sunset Beach, N.C., is an unspoiled, dune-filled beach accessible only by a single-lane draw-bridge. The island offers excellent fishing, boating and biking. The environment refreshes and rejuvenates one's spirit."

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