On my family trip to Shillong I was apprehensive about two things. First, I’d made a conscious decision not to carry my camera, but take photos only with my phone. This was going to be quite acceptable for photos of people, but I didn’t know how it would work out for everything else. Secondly, with almost twenty people in the group, with a spread of seventy years between the youngest and the oldest, I was not sure how slow each stop would be. Both questions were put to test in our first outing in Shillong. We started from the center: Ward’s lake.
It takes time to buy tickets to anything when you have to make sure that everyone who has a camera is paid for, only once, and that the gatekeeper is convinced that the number of tickets equals the number of heads. While this was going on I stood with the Youngest Niece and examined the forbidding set of rules. Would we be able to maintain decency while not fishing? The Youngest Niece went around calling her older cousins, and they all had a good time inventing possible new rules as they walked in.
I was happy with the depth of field of my phone. It allowed me to have foreground details in good focus while having a deep field for landscape photos, as in the featured photo, or the one with ducks, above. This was perfect for Ward’s Lake. The center of Shillong is a well planned area, with the vaguely bean shaped lake at the lowest point. It was named after Sir William Erskine Ward, who, during his second stint as the Chief Commissioner of the erstwhile Assam state, initiated plans for this lake. It was constructed in 1894. The confusing proliferation of alternative names is explained well by a review on Tripadvisor, “The preparatory work was initiated by Colonel Henry Hopkinson, the Commissioner of Assam in 1872 (1861–1874). In the early years it was known as Hopkinson’s Tank. Local people also refer to the lake as Nan Palok, after the Executive Engineer, Mr. Fitzwilliam Thomas Pollock. The story goes that the lake was initially dug up by a bored prisoner, by the name of Jismot Chyne who wanted to kill time and who observed water while digging.”
I couldn’t find anything about the history of the sturdy little wooden bridge which crosses the lake across its middle. On one side of the bridge I could see a whole mass of pedal boats lined up. At this time of the morning one couldn’t take the boats; we would have to come back in the afternoon if we wanted to pedal ourselves around the lake. It took time for everyone in the group to finish taking photos from the bridge and gather on the other side. Another twenty minutes then went in taking photos of each other, and of the group. I was beginning to get an answer to my second question. As the photography tapered off, people started disappearing on walks around the lake.
I had a couple of things to try out. The photo above was taken to convince myself that bird photography was not possible with the phone. If you are really interested, you could search in the patch of darkness below the red plants to see the bird I was trying to take a photo of. Or you could take my word for the fact that I saw an Eurasian tree sparrow here. The long depth of field keeps the leaf litter in the foreground as sharp as the restaurant at the back.
On the other hand, with a little experimenting I could establish that the phone also allows me to take photos with an incredibly small depth of focus. If my nearest camera were not a couple of thousand kilometers away, I wouldn’t have tried this experiment. Satisfied with the result, I followed others in a walk around the lake. On our visit to Shillong six years ago, The Family and I had spent about fifteen minutes walking around the lake, enjoying the sun. This time around it took about thrice as long. The morning was fruitful, I’d answered both the questions I started with.