Paris: Diehard doomsayers will be scurrying to the nearest shelter in fear of a Mayan prophecy of the world's end on Friday, but many more from Delhi to Sydney will 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, December 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 swathe of Central America including 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 on Friday, hosting ritual reenactments, 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", as local lore would have it, that 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 on Friday night, which is also the solstice.
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 euros -- payable in advance.
'Party this world away'
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, 740 euros) per head, the wealthiest Muscovites can check into a Stalin-era communications bunker 65 metres (200 feet) underground, which is offering 300 people a 24-hour experience called "A chance to survive".
Local television has put up tickets for the bunker in a prize draw, and will be broadcasting live from inside on the night -- like a world's end take on "Big Brother".
In eastern France, the underground galleries of Schoenenbourg fort -- part of the World War II Maginot line of defence -- will exceptionally be thrown open to the public.
And in the United States, the growing ranks of "preppers" -- who believe in planning for bad times, be it economic chaos or natural disasters -- are more than ready for the end, if it comes, with everything from food stockpiles to pre-fabricated underground bunkers.
No-nonsense authorities in China have adopted a dim view of the Mayan prophesy, rounding up more than 400 members of the Christian group "Almighty God" who have been publicising 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 HK$2,112.12 ($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", and predicting World War III will 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" singer 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 billion mark around December 21.
Story First Published: December 19, 2012 09:49 IST