The peak of Bugarach, surrounded in legend for
centuries, has become a focal point for many
Apocalypse believers as rumours have circulated
 that its mountain contains doors into other worlds.

( REUTERS/Jean Philippe Arles
The Internet is awash with predictions that the world will come to an end next year, based in part on an interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar which claims that December 21, 2012 marks the end of the current era.

The residents of Bugarach, a small hamlet in southern France, are both shocked and perturbed by the rising influx of doomsday believers who are convinced that their tiny town is the only place that will survive the 2012 judgment day.

Resting in the foothills of the Pyrenees, a region once home to the mysterious heretic sect the Catharas before they were driven underground in the 13th century, Bugarach has inspired countless myths over the years.

These days, apocalypse devotees, dressed in white, are fast becoming a familiar sight in the picturesque village, population 194. They are drawn here by a myriad of New Age theories including claims that a nearby rocky outcrop, the Pic de Bugarach, harbors an alien technical base.

"These blasted prophets from all over the world have turned our mountain into some sort of UFO garage," Jean-Pierre Delord, mayor of Bugarach, told Reuters.

"You may think it's funny, but they're deadly serious... The end result is that all these fanatics are coming here to hide out," he said.

Surrounded in legend for centuries, Bugarach has become a focal point for many Apocalypse believers as rumors have circulated that its mountain contains doors into other worlds, or that extraterrestrials will return here on Judgment day to take refuge at their base.

"The aliens will get here soon, we need to prepare for their arrival," said 42-year-old Kean, who travelled here from the Netherlands to witness the return of the otherworldly beings.

Dressed in a white tunic symbolizing the purity of his quest, he had just finished telling three new arrivals they would be building a bread oven at the settlement, and that those participating would get a 50 percent discount on their stay.

Locals have dubbed the famous Pic, rising 1,230 meters (4,035 feet) above sea level, an "upside-down mountain" as the top layers of rock are said to be older than the lower layers.

The abundance of limestone rock and caves in the area has inspired stories of underground caverns and networks of tunnels, perhaps built during the war or even by the Cathars.

From there, it is a bit of a leap of faith to the idea that the place could contain a magical underground hiding place or escape route from Armageddon.

More than 20,000 visitors have flocked to Bugarach since the start of the year. That's more than double last year's figures, according to Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord.

This has France's sect watch dog, the Miviludes, worried. They've put the city on their radar, fearing it could become the site of mass suicides such as those in France, Switzerland, and Canada in 1994 and 1997. In those cases, 74 members of the Order of the Solar Temple, including 11 children, died in a series of apparent collective suicide pacts and murders.

The head of Miviludes, Georges Fenech says he flew over the area in a helicopter recently and saw six settlements of the U.S.-based Ramtha movement, founded by J.Z. Knight in 1998.

"We don't want to be paranoid, but we are taking this seriously," Fenech told Reuters.

With the recent spate of violent natural disasters adding to a sense of imminent doom and doomsday predictions making international headlines, the number of visitors to sleepy Bugarach appears destined to rise until December 21, 2012.

After that, who knows?

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