Back to Listing

Insider India: Meeting Mallika Ahluwalia, Co-Founder of the Partition Museum, Amritsar

Insider India: Meeting Mallika Ahluwalia, Co-Founder of the Partition Museum, Amritsar

By Cosmo Brockway

‘The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers’, so begins Khushwant Singh’s book ‘A train to Pakistan’. This poignant novel captured some of the indescribable events of the partition of India following independence from Britain. Earl Mountbatten, the last viceroy, was charged with overseeing the inevitable splintering of the subcontinent into Hindu majority India and Muslim-led Pakistan. No-one could have foreseen the immense and catastrophic effects of the arbitrary drawing up of a border divided by religion. Villages and communities which co-existed with relative peace for centuries were suddenly split apart and tensions erupted into mass scale killings on all sides. The largest migration ever seen in human history began as Muslims undertook long journeys east towards the infant nation of Pakistan (‘Land of the Pure’). Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities left the cities of Lahore and Karachi and the idyllic fields of the Punjab for a new life across the border. An estimated 10 million people moved across the new border and faced the dangers of murder, looting and atrocities. The perilous journey left hundreds of thousands killed and missing.

The scale of devastation, loss and of collective trauma left few families untouched. Singh himself was a Sikh refugee to Delhi from Lahore. He hauntingly described returning many years later to his former home in this passage: “I am back in my beloved city. The scene of desolation fills my eyes with tears... I cannot recognize houses or landmarks I once knew well. Of the former inhabitants, there is no trace. Everywhere there is a terrible emptiness. All at once I find myself in the quarter where I once resided. I recall the life I used to live: meeting friends in the evening, reciting poetry, making love, spending sleepless nights pining for beautiful women and writing verses on their long tresses which held me captive. That was life! What is there left of it? Nothing.’

Partition Museum Blog Post 3
The last fifty years have seen many books, films and poetry centred on the events of 1947. But, perhaps due to the sheer magnitude of the painful legacy, it has taken until this year to see the establishing of a permanent physical memorial to the victims and survivors of partition.

The Partition Museum, housed in the magnificent (and formerly derelict) town hall of Amritsar in North India’s Punjab, is the vision of noted writer Lady Kishore Desai, child of partition survivors who fled Lahore. Desai has worked tirelessly to bring her dream to life.

Located steps away from the sights of Jallianwala Bagh and the Golden Temple, the Partition Museum, which is partly opened and will be fully unveiled this September, is set to be another reason to visit the beautiful city of Amritsar, just a 30-minute drive from Wagah, the boundary between India and Pakistan.

The landmark collection aims to be a ‘people’s museum’, with painstakingly recorded oral histories and narratives of migration, along with documents, art, music, photographs and other memorabilia being gathered from around the world. Universities, institutions and individuals are taking part in the building of this special memorial to a never-to-be forgotten chapter in India’s history. One of the most moving elements is the ‘tree of life’ – we will leave you to discover it for yourself...

Ampersand Travel met Museum co-founder and guiding spirit, Mallika Ahluwalia, who previously worked with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Delhi, to find out more about the vision of the new museum.

Partition Museum Blog Post 2
What first inspired the creation of the Partition Museum?
All four founding trustees, of which I am one, come from partition families. The museum idea came about from the very stark realization that we were losing the generation that had witnessed partition. We also realised that 70 years after the event there was no memorial anywhere in the world to an event that shaped so many millions.

The museum's mission is to showcase the human stories of the difficulties of the greatest migration in the earth's history. What have been your main tools to do so?
Our main objective is to tell the stories of those millions of people who were impacted. We are using people's own voices through oral histories, their personal artefacts, their letters, photographs and documents to tell history. For example, many galleries contain objects that refugees carried with them when they travelled; some items that have been donated to us include a phulkari coat that someone carried because it was their most prized possession to a water pot that helped family gather water during their time at a camp. Each of these objects tells the experience of the family more poignantly and fully than any history textbook ever could. 

Where has your greatest support come from in the forming of the museum?
The Partition Museum has received a real outpouring of support from all directions, including from partition families in India and abroad, major national and international museums and universities, researchers and authors, the media. Of these, we are most grateful to the support from families who directly suffered from events. 

What would you like visitors to gain from experiencing the museum?
Our museum is a testament of love, loss and longing... we want the sacrifice of this generation remembered and acknowledged. At the same time, their grit and resilience should be paid tribute to - how despite losing so much and witnessing so much, these millions pulled themselves up and re-built their lives in a new land. Our final gallery is the Gallery of Hope - where we invite visitors to co-create the central installation with us by writing their messages of hope for the future, and of love... that is ultimately what our museum is about.

How are you hoping the collection will evolve in the future?
We want our museum to become an important archive on partition. Therefore, we would like to continue to collect and conserve all relevant material - personal or official including photographs, letters, oral histories and objects. We want not just the current generation, but future generations, to come to the museum and remember our shared history and pain, whether scholars, creatives or individuals. We embrace all who would like to come, to learn, to grieve and ultimately to hope. 

Photo credits: www.partitionmuseum.org

For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to India please contact us:

info@ampersandtravel.com // +44 (0) 207 819 9770



Everything you did for us whilst we were away was hugely appreciated, and Ampersand has been exemplary in every way. I'll always recommend you!
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
I thought the Ampersand team was outstanding. We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
Ampersand’s details preparation, attention to detail and interaction before and during our trip show exactly why good travel agents have a role in today’s internet/direct booking age. Shalmali was a delight to work with – before and during our trip.
- Mr David Wallace, North India
So many highlights to choose from! The hotels were amazing but Maya Villa was a highlight… I loved just hanging out in the hammock reading my book and watching the peacocks chase the cows!
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
I had a very lovely time and was looked after splendidly. My first visit to India could not have been better, save for being longer! But I shall return at some point and I shall look to you to make the arrangements.
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
Difficult to articulate just how good the service from you and your team really was. We know you will continue to do well and hope we have the chance to seek your assistance again before long.
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
We had a wonderful holiday - everything was perfect. Thank you for helping us to make a thoughtful plan to enjoy and make most out of our trip. The places we visited, the guides, the transportation and driver, the hotels selected... Everything was great!
- Jaime Benitez, South India
Without question, you put together the best trip I have ever taken. We were shown around like visiting dignitaries, the hotels were fantastic and the itinerary was just right. Everybody I know will hear about how amazing Ampersand is!
- Leslie Siben, India

From our Instagram

Perched up high in the Himalayan Kingdom, the new #SixSenses lodges sit in prime positions in #Bhutan
.
Our favourites are the sleek properties in #Paro and #Thimphu, for these offer phenomenal sweeping views over the pristine valleys below to the mountains beyond, which sit perfectly at eye-level
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
Atmospheric rural villages, mirror-still lakes and gracious locals sum up #Myanmar (#Burma) for us 🌅
.
📸 courtesy of @zayyarlin84
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
The buzzing metropolis of #Shanghai promises an unforgettable stay 🇨🇳
.
Visit this city as part of a tailor-made tour of #China with us to discover its heady mixture of impressive skyscrapers, colonial history and incredible gastronomy 🏙🥟🍜
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
We’re dreaming of #Bali’s reflective sunsets today 🌅
.
Enjoy particularly striking views from @thelegianbali in #Seminyak
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
A luxury holiday to #Goa feeds the soul and the senses 🇮🇳🌅
.
Discover a kaleidoscope of baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, crumbling forts, tropical beaches, intoxicating spices and the warmth of #SouthIndia ⛪️☀️🌶
.
#AmpersandTravel 
#LuxuryIsInTheExperience
Staying at the beautiful @GalOyaLodge means you will experience one of Sri Lanka’s lesser-known National Parks at its very best 🌿
.
Take a boat safari here to see swimming elephants and a striking sunset 🐘🌅
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
From mid May to mid October, The Ultimate Travelling Camp’s wonderful #ChambaCamp in #Thiksey (#Ladakh) will be open! 🏞
.
Our specialists stayed at this one-of-a-kind luxury tented camp last year and adored it - we guarantee that you will too 🏕
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
Don’t miss out on #Teardrop’s new boutique hotels while touring #SriLanka 🇱🇰
.
Each sleek property brings a fresh twist to the traditional hill country - from #NineSkies in #Ella to #CamelliaHills in #Dickoya, plus #Goatfell in #NuwaraEliya 🍃
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience
The exhilarating city of #Tokyo has a world-renowned culinary scene & rightfully so! 🇯🇵
.
Be tempted to join ‘salarymen’ for an evening drink and #yakitori in restaurants and bar likes this 🏮🏮
.
#AmpersandTravel #LuxuryIsInTheExperience

Let us keep you up to date

Sign up to our newsletter and never miss out on unmissable exclusive luxury experiences