Known for its sublime surroundings and salubrious climate back in the day, Shillong was definitely a favoured place by British officials and soldiers, utilizing the place as a recreational spot. Their presence, in return, paved the way for the city to grow and develop at a faster pace as compared to the other states of Northeast India.
In this episode of Shillong’s Iconic Structures, we bring to our readers the famed Ward’s Lake with its iconic wooden bridge – an artificial water body that was constructed in 1893-1894 under the Chief Commissionership of Sir William Erskine Ward.
This 100-year-old lake, located near the Raj Bhavan and Pine Wood Hotel in the heart of the city, is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Shillong; attracting a large number of visitors on a daily basis.
Ward’s Lake comprises an area of 6.61 hectares, out of which, the water body alone covers 2.285 hectares. It is surrounded on three sides by a well-kept garden with different varieties of flora, including the famous cherry blossom trees which are in full glorious bloom during the months of November-December. It is around this time that the lake bursts into an enlivened area, painting the entire expanse in delicate hues of pink. Shillong’s iconic cherry blossom trees attract the most visitors because of their rarity, providing memorable visuals along with the picturesque setting of the lake.
The highlight of this scenic setting is the age-old white wooden bridge at the centre of the lake. This wooden cantilever bridge spread across the lake, was also commissioned by Sir William E. Ward. The concrete pillars and beams that support this wooden bridge still stand sturdy since the day they were installed.
A walk around Ward’s Lake provides one with multiple facets – the flowers are never the same, there are varieties of flowers such as camellia, marigold, gerbera, alstroemeria, sunflower, dahlia, chrysanthemum, roses in different colours that are alluring to the eyes, the ducks and geese in groups paddling majestically on the lawns or waddling on the lake, the age-old lofty trees like pine, alder, butterfly tree, crape myrtle beautifully surround the entire park. The addition of a fountain where most children are enticed, the iconic wooden bridge that reveals one of history, the lake that gleams with a shine of its own where one can spot a shoal of fish, the neatly maintained footpaths, a cafeteria of its own, a boating experience with colourful paddle boats, an ideal place for morning walks and yoga. All in all, it is an experience in itself.
At present, Ward’s Lake is run by three government departments – the Forests & Environment Department manages the upkeep of the lake, its lawn, garden area, and the greenhouse; the Tourism Department oversees the boating facilities, cafeteria, and a small photo booth that rents out traditional Khasi attire and accessories to visitors who wish to pose for photographs, crystallizing a memory for a lifetime; the Fisheries Department looks after the species of fish in the lake.
Back in the day, the name was changed at least twice – It was first called ‘Hopkinson’s Tank’ and during Sir Elliot’s governance, the lake came to be called ‘Elliot’s Lake’. It was renamed Ward’s Lake in 1894, which remains the official name of the lake till the present day. To know more about the history of this heritage structure, watch the full episode on our Youtube Channel @TheShillongTimes as we take you on a trip down memory lane.