David welcomes me with a good morning, asks if I would like a tea. Every day begins in the kitchen in preparation for the upcoming meals of the day, including fresh baked loaves of bread, my reason for rising at this hour: to witness the work of our host here at the Basunti Lodge. David pours the water, adds the sugar and then starts gathering all the necessary material for baking.
Raju arrives, exactly on time, 4:40 am. He has been working for David’s family for thirty years, beginning with their tour company for the mountains, north of Dharamshala, Raju’s home. Familiar greetings in hushed voices; not whispering, just loud enough to be heard but not enough to disturb the morning. Raju begins with the fruit juice, cutting each in half, gathered from the trees grown on the property, squeezing them through the hand leveraged, sturdily built, Italian presser.
David sifts the flour to catch any extras which it may contain from the locally sourced, stone grist mill. He kneads the dough by hand on the beautifully non-stick granite counter, because the mixer makes too much noise for this time of the morning. The dough goes on top of the fridge where the heat from the motor will help it rise faster. Raju has since moved to the other room which appears to be the original with its brownish orange tiles while David remains in the other half, an apparent addition of screened windows, and a roof of thin slate supported by bamboo. Here sits most of the equipment and the exit to the cold shelter. The two don’t speak much; they know the routine.
Cleaning, peeling, slicing, dicing, chopping, shredding consume the next hour.
With my presence, David ventures into a number of different areas of discussion, largely to my probing, some to pertinent observations. Meals, he explains, have become more complex because food allergies are common. David attributes the phenomenon to the environment; I think it is the result of obsessively clean, protected living. That thought launches us into a recall of our upbringing where we were sent outside to play, fend for ourselves and come back for supper, or before dark. A question about the vegetarian diet at the lodge leads to a warning about eating meat in India because of the inconsistent supply of electricity to keep it adequately refrigerated. Meat is dubious; vegetables are safe. A reminder of the novice local electrician who eventually learned his trade after being sent flying across the room from shock.
The dough has risen allowing for the mixture of walnuts and raisin in one half of the severed mound, pumpkin seeds for the other. Nothing is measured; a handful of this, a tip of that, and a pinch here, folded into the dough then plopped into the pan, seam side down and placed atop the warming convection oven for the next rise.
Time for the next cup of tea, one of which David will bring to his home for Izzy as she awakens.
The modern equipment has taken much preparation more predictable but the essence of bread making remains and not as complicated as others might suggest, or so says the finalist, winner of 100 British pounds, for the 1980 Sandwich Maker competition held at the Savoy Hotel in London. At 6:35 am, David has determined that the bread has risen to the perfect height and the loaves are popped into the oven.
David excuses himself as he heads outside to stem off a rogue monkey who has been eating from his garden and diminishing his salad crop. No luck in catching him; oh well, continue with the preparations.
Everything in place, on time, so the bell rings at exactly 7:00 am beckoning the guests to come for tea and coffee. I go to the top of the building to catch the sun rise, amidst the wafting fragrance of fresh, baking bread.
Another new day begins.