The next morning, I went out early to photograph the sunrise. A worker tending the grounds had just put fresh flowers on a shrine to Ganesh, the elephant god who, it is said, clears obstacles from your path. Fortified by the sense of immunity that some of us naively assume when traveling, I decided to venture out onto the road in search of photo opportunities - but not before giving the elephant's trunk a pat for an extra measure of good luck.
It was quiet on the road - nothing much to see besides trees and scrub. I was about to turn back when I heard shouting in the distance. "Hai. Hai." A pair of bulls pulling a cart emerged in the early morning mist, followed by two other bullock carts. The men standing atop their carts were barefoot and bare-chested; they stopped to scoop dirt into their carts, which were already half full. Later someone told me the dirt was used for construction. In a land where so many have so little, even dirt can be a valuable commodity.
Gauzy sunlight filtering through the trees lent an otherworldly, long-ago quality to the scene, as if I'd passed through a wrinkle in time. Pointing to my camera, I mouthed "OK?" But the men ignored me, so I began snapping, wondering if they had even registered my presence. Once the carts had proceeded into the distance, leaving only a trail of dust to mark their passing, I walked back to the hotel. Slipping through the open gate was like crossing a border between two worlds; it was the kind of border you can find anywhere - Paris, Istanbul, Philadelphia - where the inhabitants of each world are as invisible to the other as the boundaries that separate them.
Natalie Zellat Dyen lives in Montgomery County.