Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Friday, 8 July 2011 01:05 UK

French village of Bugarach spooked by doomsday cults

Bugarach village and mountain

By Chris Bockman
Bugarach, France

A village in southern France is thought by some to be the one place where it may be possible to survive the end of the world - an event they expect on 21 December 2012.

Bugarach, a tiny ancient village on the French side of the Pyrenees is extremely hard to find and you have to make a special effort to get there.

Groups that could be called sects are heading to the mountain top and taking part in strange rituals

And that is apparently just what a variety of esoteric groups, "new-agers" and doomsday cults are doing or planning to do.

According to an ancient Mayan calendar, at some point towards the end of 2012, the world will come to an end.

It is not clear how that will happen, but apparently humanity does not stand a chance - except for those who seek shelter in the area surrounding Bugarach.

Just 200 people live there all year round, but doomsday believers and spiritual groups are convinced the village has magical powers, thanks to the local mountain - the Pic de Bugarach.

For years, rumours have circulated on the internet that extra-terrestrials live in the mountain, and come the apocalypse, the top will open and they will emerge with spaceships, and rescue the local inhabitants.

UFOs

Sounds ridiculous, right?

But the French authorities say it is no joke.

UFO graffiti Bugarach
This grafitti in Bugarach depicts UFOs picking a human off a mountain top

A special parliamentary committee has warned that sects may be considering mass suicides in 2012, on French territory.

It has pointed the finger at some of the people spending time around Bugarach and elsewhere in the Pyrenees.

The authorities say some individuals have bought land in the mountains, with the intention of building bunkers, where they can survive the end of the world surrounded by their acolytes, or even die together.

I have to admit while I was in Bugarach I saw no spaceships or mysterious priest-like figures.

Just a painting on a wall depicting UFOs picking a human off a mountain top, and some sleepy dogs basking in the sun rather fed up at being woken up by yet another foreign journalist.

A four-man crew from German television was also wandering through the village, looking for signs of the near end of the world.

They too came away empty-handed, and rather puzzled by all the fuss.

'Strange rituals'

It has to be said that the local population is not exactly thrilled to see the media stomping through the village and most are not talking.

Woman examines engraving on rock, on the Pic de Bugarach
Misfits and hippies have been attracted to the region for years

Their shutters are tightly shut to keep out both the searing heat, and pesky reporters asking questions about UFOs.

One who was willing to talk was Valerie Austin, a retired British schoolteacher who came here 10 years ago to get away from it all.

She said she believed she had a rational mind, and just could not see how anyone could take seriously the idea that the mountain might be some sort of underground, UFO car park.

But the local mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, told me groups that could be called sects are heading to the mountain top and taking part in strange rituals.

Others, dressed in white outfits, have also been seen holding furtive gatherings in the forest near the village.

He says it is frightening his constituents and he also shakes his head in disbelief.

He said, with ghoulish humour, if it really is the end of the world next year, he has no desire to be left on his own in the village.

It will not be much fun - he would rather die with the rest of civilisation.

And at the nearest estate agency, about 10 miles (16km) from the village, Jacques Fargier says he has sold some big properties to some strange types that could be characterised as sects.

In fact, teasingly, he said that there would be no point in anyone heading to the village looking for a property safe haven, because there was not much on the market and building permission was very hard to obtain in this stunning part of the world.

Mystical 'energy'

Doomsday or not, there is no question that the countryside around Bugarach has a very powerful hold on many visitors with esoteric inclinations.

Map showing position of Bugarach

In the next valley there is another tiny village, Rennes le Chateau, that has been swamped by tourists for several years, after the hugely successful writer, Dan Brown, revealed in The Da Vinci Code an ancient rumour that the local priest became rich overnight.

According to the legend, he found proof that Mary Magdalene and Christ may have been lovers. He was bought off by the Catholic Church to keep the truth secret, and then buried his wealth near the village.

Every year, spiritual travellers come to soak in the energy they say comes from the mountain. They are convinced something very strange happened here.

This arid and remote region has a rich history. Brutal religious wars and border conflicts between France and Spain have marked the land. Ransacked castles dot the landscape.

A low cost of living, artisan economy, and air of mysticism lingering over the mountainous terrain, has attracted misfits and a large community of hippies to the region for years.

For the local restaurants and bed-and-breakfast owners, there is no doubt the strange tales and magic energy said to be inside the mountains are extremely good for tourism.

But they admit too many visitors in white tunics holding secret gatherings at night is not the kind of business they are keen on.

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