Not even swine flu can make the spirits of Mumbaikars sag. The grip of the disease in Maharashtra notwithstanding, they are making the best of a long weekend and are off to holiday resorts.
Despite official advisories against travelling to popular getaways like Lonavala and Khandala, city residents are planning to go to other destinations as they have holidays on account of Janmashtami on Friday, Independence Day on Saturday and then Sunday.
"You cannot keep Mumbaikars locked in their homes for any reason for so many days. If not cinema halls, they will explore other avenues for entertainment and outing. Let the authorities and swine flu do their jobs...!" joked marketing professional Venkat Iyer.
Bookings for travel as well as board and lodging to places like Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Matheran and beach resorts like Daman, Alibaug, Kashid, Murud-Janjira, Sindhudurg and Ganpatipule are full for three days, say tour operators.
"The weather is good to travel to the mountains or the seaside; so people are going to both, depending on individual choices," Raju Bhatia, proprietor of Deepa Travels Private Ltd, told IANS.
When asked whether swine flu had dampened the enthusiasm of Mumbaikars, Bhatia said people were planning to take "all precautions". Some had booked at least a month in advance, so cancellations would mean losses for them, he said.
Besides, restrictions have been imposed in Mumbai on account of swine flu, with schools and colleges shut for a week and cinema halls and multiplexes shut for four days from Thursday.
Most people had marked their calendars for long weekends at the start of 2009, said Yogesh Lele of Sanjog Tours & Travels. "Such opportunities are too precious for Mumbaikars to let go of, swine flu or not," he smiled and said.
The mood is buoyant even at hill stations. "We have full bookings and advance inquiries for Diwali and even Christmas," Kobad Davierwalla, owner of Panchgani Hill Plaza, told IANS.
Panchgani falls in Satara district, one of the worst affected by swine flu. There are at least 38 cases, mostly students, who are currently under treatment in Panchgani, which is home to posh residential schools in the state.
Its twin hill station of Mahabaleshwar has also laid out the red carpet for tourists from Mumbai during the weekend, according to the Mahabaleshwar Hotels & Restaurants Association (MHRA).
"Usually monsoon is a lean period; the tourism season picks up only from Diwali. This time, coupled with a long weekend and the restrictions on festivities in Mumbai, people are making a beeline for Mahabaleshwar," said a spokesman for MHRA.
He pointed out that many people are avoiding Pune - the city worst hit by swine flu in India and has reported 12 deaths - and there are inhibitions about travelling to Lonavala and Khandala. Therefore Mahabaleshwar, Matheran and Panchgani are favourites this time.
The popular Hotel Marina of Daman is house-full for the next three days, according to its owner, Tehmton Wadia. "Usually our weekends are good business, irrespective of the season, but this weekend we had more than just the usual number of people coming to Daman," he said.
Even the approximately 20 amusement parks, water parks and weekend resorts dotting the outskirts of Mumbai are preparing to receive the weekend vacationers despite the fear of swine flu.
"We don't make bookings for entertainment facilities. But there are many inquiries and bookings for the residential facilities here which are given as per availability," said Vijay Saini, director of Green Court Club, a leading weekend resort adjoining Thane district.
For a day's picnic, the usual favourite haunts shall be the beaches at Juhu, Chowpatty, Marve, Gorai, Uttan, Alibaug, Madh Island, or the Panvel bird sanctuary and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with its white tiger and lion safaris.