Vintage Travel Posters Capture Pakistan’s Romantic Side
by Amna Khawar
With the recent attack on the Karachi airport, international airlines such as Cathay Pacific suspending their flight operations and the killing of foreign mountain climbers in Gilgit-Baltistan last year, it’s easy to forget that Pakistan was once a major tourist destination.
Yet, during the Jet Age era of the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistan was an international attraction for globetrotters seeking adventure in a new nation. Several global airlines serviced the country including the iconic Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and Italy’s flagship carrier Alitalia.
To promote tourism, the Government of Pakistan released a series of colorful travel posters in the 1960s. Featuring stunning women, rugged Pathan men, exotic animals, and architectural Mughal jewels, the vintage posters captured the glamorous allure of Pakistan for foreign travelers (even if the representations were slightly stereotyped given the Orientalist view prevalent at the time). Created before the arrival of digital photography, the artists used bold colors, beautiful calligraphy and rich imagery to illustrate Pakistan’s top visitor attractions. The series also featured several East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh) destinations including Dacca, Sylhet and Sunderbans.
This August 14, step back in time and take a whimsical journey of Pakistan through these works of art to rediscover its charming people, historical monuments and beautiful landscape. While tourists may not be jumping to book a ticket to Pakistan, these gems provide a glimpse into a bygone era. Happy Independence Day!
Located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, Hunza Valley is famous for its snow-capped mountains and lush green landscape dotted with bright flowers. The poster is titled after a 1953 National Geographic article authored by Franc and Jean Shor and depicts a gorgeous Hunza Valley woman with fair skin, blue eyes and a beauty mark for good measure. Legend ascribes the Hunza people as descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers. Moreover, current Hunzakuts are believed to be some of the oldest people in the world, with long life spans averaging 115 years of age, which should make us sit up and wonder what's in their diet!
Peshawar was an important center of trade between Central Asia and South Asia due to its strategic location near the Khyber Pass that formed part of the ancient Silk Road. Known as the City on the Frontier, it was the site of many military battles and conquests by the Greeks, Muslims and Sikhs. The poster on the left, illustrates two handsome Pathan men carrying weapons and wearing customary Peshawari pagris and rich traditional clothing eliciting a sense of fearlessness and adventure.
Old and new, Karachi is harmoniously represented in this poster with a Sindhi musician playing the traditional Surando instrument contrasting with the tall buildings and never-ending traffic zooming through modern day Karachi. Perhaps we could all afford to listen to some calming Surando while stuck in one of the mega-city’s notorious traffic jams!
A magnified look at the Wazir Khan mosque, this picture shines a light on the mosque’s striking Qashani mosaic tile work, prominent red sandstone color and ornately decorated domes that tower over the havelis in Old Lahore. The facade is a wonderful example of Islamic architecture from the 1600s and is renowned for its frescos with attractive floral designs, geometric patterns and elaborate Islamic calligraphy.
Lahore Fort beautifully illustrates the Mughal flair for grand buildings, elaborate gardens and exquisite art and masonry. The poster on the right shows the Mughal Emperor Akber traveling on a lovely intricate rug while two servants fan him from Lahore’s infamous heat. Akber built the existing structure between 1556–1605 although the fort’s history predates the Mughals. The monumental citadel captures the Mughals’ aesthetic sense for architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Known as the City of Mosques, Dacca (later renamed to Dhaka in 1982 to reflect local pronunciation) was the capital of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). Dacca was an important trading town during the Mughal period, who furnished the city with grand mosques built in ornate architectural designs. Additionally the city was renowned for its muslin cloth, which was prized by the 19th century European elite, who gladly paid premium prices for the coveted fabric.
Along with the tourism posters created by the Government of Pakistan, international airlines developed their own aviation art to promote flights to far-off destinations. Designed mostly during the 1950s Jet Age era where jet engines made travel affordable and convenient, these works of art present an interesting angle of what attracted foreigners when planning a trip to Pakistan.
For instance, exotic animals seemed to be a big draw for tourists as evidenced by this 1950s Alitalia poster promoting flights to Pakistan. Elephants were highly valued by the Mughals for use in battle and royal ceremonies and today are more commonly found in India and Bangladesh than modern day Pakistan. Regardless of accuracy, the beautiful pagoda-esque carrier atop the pearl-white elephant complemented by the abstract architecture makes for a cool poster indeed.
Similarly, tigers were clearly a favorite for touting Pakistan in aviation advertising, but the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) took a unique tactic by depicting a cartoonish version of the Bengal tiger in outer space who looks like he just stepped out of a Pink Panther episode. Moreover, the tiger himself appears confused, as if he’s not sure how he ended up on a BOAC poster in the first place!
Just a year after its independence, Pakistan was already attracting tourists as illustrated by this 1948 Pan American advertisement. Written in Italian, the poster depicts an attractive Pakistani solider outfitted in a red uniform and elaborate turban, gazing intently in the distance. One wonders why Pan Am chose this particular image to entice travelers to Pakistan instead of the country's historical monuments or picturesque landscape. Perhaps it was to tempt Italian women to search for dashing Pakistani officers?
Indeed traveling via Pan Am's Clipper planes was the ultimate status symbol back in the day; a luxury afforded only to the affluent. With the launch of their "Round the World" service in 1947, Pan Am expanded its service to India and Pakistan as advertised in these posters from 1949-1950. South Asian culture is encapsulated by a man sporting a red pagri and a gravity-defying beard flanked by the usual regional attractions of tigers and elephants, signaling adventure in a land not-so-far-away thanks to the Clipper.
This photo essay originally appeared on Medium on August 14, 2014.