The Door to Hell has been open since the 1980s – and it cannot be closed.
Deep in the arid desert, a huge crater burns with the wrath of a thousand flames, night and day, day and night.
Tourists flock to its precipitous edges, nothing but a rope separating them from the inferno.
After dark, spiders are drawn to its brilliant glow, hypnotically crawling to a fiery death.
But this isn’t Hell. It’s a massive hole set alight by Soviet engineers. Obviously.
Named the Darvaza gas crater, no one knows how the pit was first formed before it was set aflame. Perhaps there was simply no one around. Or maybe its classified.
Some believe engineers were drilling for oil when a rig gave way and punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, forming the huge crater, 70 metres wide and 30 metres deep.
Whatever its origin, it’s fair to say its legendary status hails from one very bad decision.
In the 1980s, as the crater continued leaking poisonous gases, those in the know thought the best solution was to simply burn them off.
Side note: Turkmenistan has the sixth largest gas reserves in the world. Enough to keep aglow for quite some time.
And so, 50 years on, it relentlessly rumbles on, burning methane that would really be better off in the ground.
Turkmenistan: the lowdown
- Turkmenistan is 80% desert
- Turkmen melons have their own national holiday
- Turkmenistan has the sixth largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world
- It is one of the least visited countries in the world, reporting 14,438 tourists in 2019. It just reopened for tourists in 2023
- The country had a President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov, until his death in 2006. He ruled for 21 years.
- The country formed a space agency in 2011, and launched a satellite in 2015
Only one man has ever descended into the Gates of Hell, explorer George Kourounis. During his visit met with local geologists ‘who have been there for decades’, and said the collapse may have happened in the 1960s.
‘It’s hard for me to back that up, but this is basically straight from the horse’s mouth,’ said Mr Kourounis.
But anything is possible when there are no records to confirm or deny.
‘Day or night, it is clearly burning. You can hear the roar of the fire if you stand at the edge,’ said Mr Kourounis.
‘The heat, if you are downwind of it, is unbearable.
‘There are thousands of little flames all around the edges and towards the centre. Then there are two large flames in the middle at the bottom, and that is probably where the drilling rig hole was for the natural gas extraction.’
But its mystery origin is now secondary, as there’s a bigger problem at hand – climate change. Burning gas 24/7 isn’t a great look in 2024.
In 2022, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the then president of Turkmenistan, appeared on state television to tell officials to put out the hellish flames.
He said human-made crater ‘negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby’.
He added: ‘We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the wellbeing of our people’, and instructed officials to ‘find a solution to extinguish the fire’.
But as the Gates of Hell continue to burn, tourists flock to the landlocked Asian country to just get a glimpse of this strange, and disastrous, human error.
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