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Bunker or bar? ‘End of world’ options endless

AFP-JIJI

Diehard doomsayers will be scurrying to the nearest shelter in fear of a Mayan prophecy of the world’s end Friday, but many more from Delhi to Sydney plan to ring in the date by partying like there’s no tomorrow.

One thing is certain: from off-the-shelf bunkers to “World’s End” menus or trips to esoteric hot spots, Dec. 21, singled out by the Mayan Long Count calendar as the end of a 5,000-year era, has spelled big business worldwide.

Across the Mayans’ ancestral homeland, a vast swath of Central America that includes parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, “The End of the World As We Know It,” or TEOTWAWKI, has been a shot in the arm for tourism.

Ancient Mayan sites will be buzzing with activity Friday, hosting ritual re-enactments, conferences and sound-and-light shows — often against the backdrop of protests by indigenous groups who complain their culture is being hijacked.

But elsewhere around the globe there will be no shortage of shelters or shrines to host the fearful — or simply curious — crowds through the night.

Apocalyptic-minded folk in Brazil can head to the village of Alto Paraiso, a place pulsating with “mystical energy” that, as local lore would have it, has been readying for the end for years; an anti-Armageddon ceremony will take place on the Island of the Sun in the middle of Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the highest in the world, where legend has it the founders of the Inca empire were born; and Illuminati in Serbia are predicting that the pyramid-shaped mountain of Rtanj will glow Friday night, which is also the winter solstice.

Argentina, however, is taking the event seriously. Authorities will shut down access to a mountain called Uritorco in central Cordova Province from Dec. 20 to 22 because an appeal has gone out on Facebook for people to climb the hill Dec. 21 and commit “massive spiritual suicide,” said Gustavo Sez, mayor of the nearby town of Capilla del Monte. That name means chapel on a hill.

The village of Sirince in western Turkey has also become an apocalyptic magnet, with all 400 hotels in the vicinity fully booked. It is reputed to be doomsday-proof because the Virgin Mary is said to have risen to heaven from there. Likewise the picturesque south Italian village of Cisternino, singled out by an Indian guru as a safe bet come the end of the world. Or there is France’s apocalyptic spot of choice, the Pic de Bugarach in the foothills of the Pyrenees, though the site is cordoned off to keep out the hordes, and a local hotel will set you back €1,500 ($2,000) — payable in advance.

Short of a sacred site to weather the doomsday storm, there is always the man-made option of a good old bunker.

For 30,000 rubles ($970) per head, the wealthiest Muscovites can check into a Stalin-era communications bunker 65 meters underground, which is offering 300 people a 24-hour experience called “A chance to survive.” Local television is raffling off tickets for a night in the bunker and will be broadcasting live from inside — in a kind of world’s end take on “Big Brother.”

In eastern France, the underground galleries of the Schoenenbourg fort — part of the World War II Maginot Line of defense — will exceptionally be thrown open to the public.

No-nonsense authorities in China have adopted a dim view of the Mayan prophecy, rounding up more than 400 members of the Christian group “Almighty God” who have been publicizing the world’s end.

But elsewhere in Asia, the end of times will be the best of times, featuring a techno soundtrack and fine dining.

“This is potentially the very last dance so you know you’ve got to be there!” reads one flyer for the Ssky Bar in New Delhi. For its “end-of-the-world party,” Sydney’s Shelbourne Hotel suggests that “if it’s curtains for us all, we might as well get loose and party this world away to the beat of a bass drum.” In Hong Kong, the Aqua restaurant is promising to pick up the tab for its 2,112.12 Hong Kong dollar ($273) six-course meal if the apocalypse does appear at hand — though patrons will have to stump up if still alive at midnight.

The mystical minded in Australia — where Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made a spoof video to announce the end of days — are laying on a Mayan solstice festival near Canberra featuring music and yoga.

Raj Kumar Sharma, a Mumbai-based astrologer, dismissed the Mayan predictions, saying he detected “a lot of positivity around in the near future,” but predicted World War III would break out by 2052.

But if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do descend on Earth, it seems one might be riding in on an invisible steed, miming a rodeo dance. South Korean social networks have been buzzing with a spoof “prophecy,” attributed to the 16th-century French seer Nostradamus, that ties “Gangnam Style” superstar Psy to the Mayan apocalypse.

Ominously, believers note, the ever-climbing number of YouTube views for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video, currently at nearly 972 million, stands to hit the 1 billion mark around Dec. 21.