A two-kilometer walk through the villages and fields led us to the banks of Ramganga. The air was crisp, fresh and energizing. We trudged on the fine white shimmering sand bejeweled with mica, collected driftwood and wondered at the unique patterns that time and waves carved on the stones. The majestic Ramganga was clean, clear, sparkling, babbling and burbling over the pebbled riverbed and time-worn rocks, teeming with tiny Mahseers that darted to and fro like a pack of naughty kids playing hide and seek under the stones. A bamboo raft waited for us. We got into it, two at a time. The experience of crossing river on a raft was mesmerizing. We were spellbound, the soft sound of the waves lapping on the shore, the hum of the river meandering around the valley and the raft rocking on it, was, enchanting.
We were quiet, savouring every sound and sight that nature had to offer here. We reached the other side of the river and walked to our destination Vanghat that would be our home in the forest for the next two days.
Next day, we started our baking session with the team. It was an experience to bake in inspiring environs. We heard a dozen bird songs as we measured flour and kneaded dough. Being in the midst of the forest, it was cold and hence we kept the dough bowls around wood-fired chullahs. While the dough proofed, we discussed the basics of baking bread with the team.
A Black-lored Tit splashed and played in the bird bath. In the branches above a Grey Treepie gave out shrill calls and swooped down, driving the tit away. Yeasty aroma of our breakfast bread permeated the air and the first loaf came out of the oven.
Baking own bread is always a healthy option. It gives the freedom to play with grains, seeds, and flours. It also reduces carbon footprints. Love for forests, birds, nature and good food connects us to our friend and gracious host Sumantha Ghosh. We strongly believe in food that is locally grown, locally sourced, seasonal and unprocessed and thus less impacting. In-house baking is healthy and environment-friendly. In the next two days, we baked a finger millet bread and caramelized onion focaccia.
Last day started with an early morning walk. A narrow grassy dew-laden track, flanked by lantana bushes led us to the edge of the forest by the side of the river. The air was suffused with the sweet smell of wildflowers and vegetation. We found ourselves a stone each to perch on. The river was placid. Kingfishers were busy hunting fish, a pack of langurs was leaping from one branch to another,
A White-capped Water Redstart made rapid sallies into the water for insects, a Spotted Forktail kept hiding and emerging out from behind big boulders.
We saw myriad butterflies in the forest, some drifted over the river lazily.
We stopped midway for breakfast. Bread was toasted on firewood collected on the way.
Smoke-infused toasts slathered with butter with a cup of steaming tea was a heavenly experience.
We thanked our generous host Sumantha Ghosh for the memorable stay and experience and headed back to the banks where the raft was waiting.
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- Whisk together first four ingredients in a large bowl.
- In another bowl, take sugar and water and add yeast. Stir, cover and let sit for 10 minutes or until frothy.
- Add yeasted water slowly to the dry ingredients and knead the dough. Keep adding water and keep kneading till you get a very soft and supple dough, about 7-8 minutes.
- Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Turn around dough so that it is evenly coated with oil. Cover and keep in a warm place for 1 ½ hours or until double.
- Punch the risen dough and knead again for 2 minutes.
- Grease one 8 x 4 x 4-inch loaf pan.
- Roll out the dough into a rectangle not bigger than the width of the pan you are using. Roll the dough towards you, tightly. Pinch seams to seal. Place the roll in the greased loaf tin with the seam side down.
- Cover and keep it to rise for 1 hour in a warm place or until it crests above the rim of the pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 190 degrees C for 30 to 35 minutes or till the top turns brown and the bottom of the pan sounds empty when tapped. If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent the loaf loosely with a foil.
- Remove from the loaf tin after 10 minutes. Cool in the rack.
- Slice when cold.