After space tourism, it is astro-tourism that is catching up people's fancy, courtesy the ensuing total solar eclipse.
Air charter and tourist operators in India are receiving an overwhelming response for chartered flights to view total solar eclipse of longest duration in 21st century.
All set to take place on July 22, the eclipse holds special interest for scientists and general public as its path of totality passes through thickly populated western, central, eastern and northeastern regions of India.
Cox & Kings, a travel agency claims that both amateur astronomers and others are booking for the Boeing-737 that they have hired for the two-hour journey from Delhi to Gaya in Bihar to watch the rare total solar eclipse.
Each ticket is priced at rupees 79,000 (around $1,618). "Well, we have got very strong response. The airline that we are flying has 21 seats facing the sun and 21 more window seats, which are facing away from the sun, facing the earth. We call them the ''''sun side seats'''' and the ''''earth side seats''''. The sun side seats, which will have direct view of the eclipse, cost about 79,000 rupees. We are actually getting very strong response form the amateur astronomy circles in India, from the corporate world and a wide variety of audience," said Nikhil Pawar, Scientific Officer, Space Technology and Education Private Limited, Mumbai.
On July 22, the moon will totally eclipse the sun after a decade. The next total solar eclipse will take place again only in 2034.
People on board these chartered flights can watch the eclipse for almost 10 times more than those on ground. And, there are reasons attributed to such a phenomenon.
"Theoretically the totality (of the eclipse) can be only 7 minutes 30 seconds. So that is the maximum you can get, if you are stationed at one place and during that period, by chasing the moon shadow they (people in airplanes) increase the time to 74 minutes that means almost ten times than the theoretically maximum possible," Piyush Pandey, Director, Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai.
Meanwhile, hotel owners in Patna are preparing to welcome the rush of astro-tourist guests expected to halt here. "The solar eclipse on the 22nd can be seen from Bihar. The tourists will come on the 21st and 12 rooms have been booked for them in our hotel," said Vinay Pandey, owner Hotel Republic, Patna.
In India, the eclipse will commence soon after sunrise.
Surat and Vadodra in Gujarat, Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh apart from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Patna in Bihar are stated to be the ideal locations for good views of the total solar eclipse.
It provides a rare opportunity to view and study this grand spectacle of nature. The partial phase of the eclipse will be visible throughout the country.
Astro-tourism comes as a surprise in a country where people for ages have been considering eclipses especially solar eclipses as bad omen.
The belief that the sun is at the mercy of two evil planets, Rahu and Ketu causing the eclipse, still prevails among a large section of people despite propagation of scientific temper among the masses.