Back at the turn of the century, India was perceived by many as a strange and mysterious land that few knew about and even fewer from the West could have ever dreamed of visiting. That of course has changed with the advent of the hundreds of daily international flights leaving for every major Indian city, the Bollywood movies and Indian pop culture that is streamed onto our TV and computers screens, the spicy Indian food that is sold from nearly every corner in major cities such as London and New York and of course, that tech guy in some Bangalore call center who helps you to install the latest version of Microsoft Windows over the phone. India in the 21st century has become a bit less exotic than say, the 1930s when travel posters such as the ones you’re about to see encouraged people to venture into this fabled land.
Below are some vintage Indian travel posters from the British Raj era that are being auctioned off by the Swann Auction Galleries. It’s interesting to see how they compare to the India of the present. Most of these posters depict scenes in what are today northwestern India and Pakistan.
Mt. Abu is a scenic hill station in the northeastern state of Rajasthan. An oasis smack in the middle of the Thar desert, Mt. Abu is just a few kilometers from the famous Dilwara Temples
This poster was painted by Ralph O’Neil and is from the 1930s.
Northwest Frontier Province
During British times the so-called Northwest Frontier provinces made up the ungovernable edge of the British Empire in India. Today, it’s still an ungovernable region and makes up Pakistan’s fluid border with Afghanistan. It’s also far from a safe tourist destination, being the hideout for Taliban holdouts, smugglers and all sorts of other shady characters. This place is probably best viewed in photos for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of photos, this poster was put contrived by the Sobha Singh and is from 1935.
Lahore is another city that was given to the newly-created state of Pakistan during India’s bloody partition. The capital of Pakistani Punjab and once Punjabi culture, Lahore is today the 2nd-largest city in Pakistan.
This scene was painted by Vic Veevers and is from 1935.
Amritsar, Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
The Golden Temple, known also as the Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest site of the Sikh religion. It is today located in the Indian state of Punjab.
Painted by Fred Taylor, this poster was in circulation in 1935.
Amber Fort, Jaipur
Also known as the Amer Fort, the Amber near Jaipur is an exemplary work of Hindu architecture and today one of Rajasthan’s principle tourist attractions.
This 1930s poster was painted by artist Austin Cooper.
Our last stop on this little art tour of India is the fabled city of Fatehpur Sikri, the short-lived capital of the Mughal Empire. Construction of the city started in 1571 by the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great. He chose this site so that he could be close to Shaikh Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint whose blessings Akbar believed had granted him the son that he always wanted (the future Mughal Emperor Jahangir). Named Fatehpur Sikri, meaning “city of victory,” Akbar set up his court here complete with palaces, a mosque, harem and all the other trappings that would befit the most powerful man of medieval India. While the city may have been spiritually blessed by Shaikh Salim, it was cursed in more practical aspects such as not being close enough to a reliable source of water. Thus, Fatehpur Sikri had to be abandoned in 1585 and the Mughal court moved to Lahore, now part of Pakistan.
The poster above is by the artist A.R. Acott and was most likely produced in the 1920s.
More posters can be seen on the Swann Auction site.
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