Hotel Of Death

Varanasi, India

It's a place of celebration, where dying guests are promised freedom for their souls. Everyone in Varanasi seems to know where Mukti Bhavan is located, though there are no signs leading to it, the city's busiest intersection, where a torrent of motorcycles, cars and cycle rickshaws stop for nothing and no one.

The house has 12 rooms. Only at the height of day does sunlight stream in through. At night, dim fluorescent bulbs provide a modicum of light. It sits on a narrow lane, next to a couple of shabby shops. The early 20th-century brick and plaster building belonged to a wealthy Varanasi family at one time but today, its appearance is suitably sober and dark for a place of death.

Varanasi has always been known as the city of light. But a more appropriate moniker might be the city of death. The end of life here is stark and out in the open, for all to see. To take God's name and die in Varanasi is to attain moksha, a term that can be interpreted in many ways but is generally understood by Hindus to mean freedom for the soul, a release from the constant cycle of rebirth.