The Karakum steppes, which absorbed the whole amazing world of the Turkmen nature, leave no one indifferent. The steppe landscape stretching to the horizon is very attractive, and the beauty of the Karakum steppe is an inseparable blessing that nature gave to man and the whole living world. Natural monuments of the Karakum desert are of great interest to foreign travelers, researchers of history, science and culture. It is in the Karakum deserts on the border of Dashoguz and Akhal regions that the Darvaza gas crater, 266 km to the north of Ashgabat, is located.
This beautiful place fascinates visitors with its flame, which can be seen from afar, and the nature of this place with its unique soil in all seasons enhances the beauty of the Karakum desert. The crater got its name from the name of the nearby village of Darvaza. Local residents of Turkmenistan and travelers call it “The Door to Hell” or “The Gates of Hell”. The sight of the flame burning among the yellow sands of the desert intrigues and fascinates even experienced travelers, but few know how exactly this miracle of nature arose.
In 1971, in the Karakum desert of Turkmenistan geologists began drilling an exploration well in search of natural gas. There was an incident during the drilling. Geologists accidentally discovered an underground cavity into which, together with the transport and derrick, all the equipment that was there collapsed. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the natural gas broke out of the cavity. The crater was about 60 meters in diameter and about 20 meters deep. In order not to cause trouble to the local residents of the village of Darvaza, geologists decided to burn the gas in the hope that after a few days, it would be completely burned.
Days, months even years passed, but the fire never stopped burning. In 2004, by decree of President Turkmenbashy, the village was relocated due to gas damage and security reasons. The old village of Darvaza was moved closer to the railway station of the same name. After the demolition, only the foundations of a few houses remained of the village. However, the Darvaza gas crater continued to burn. The Crater burns to this day and nobody knows how long it will last, whether the gas will finally run out, or eventually the gas crater will be buried. Thus, according to experts, it was found that Turkmenistan loses about $50 billion annually due to the level of burning of the «Gates of Hell». The cost of such a fire is too high. Natural gas is wasted here, and it is such a precious resource.
The crater looks incredibly attractive and at the same time frightening. You can admire the flames wandering on its surface endlessly. The height of some tongues of flame reaches 15-20 meters, so it is very dangerous to approach it. The crater’s frightening name, the “Gates of hell” is not accidental. If you stumble and fall into it, it is literally impossible to get out. Very dangerous and the release of gas, so the country’s government for many years sought to fill the fiery crater. In 2013, the famous traveler and explorer Georges Kourounis was the only person who managed to go down to the bottom of the crater and take samples for testing. Thus, Darvaza was included in the National Geographic list. He managed to find bacteria that live at the bottom of the crater and are fine at high temperatures.
What was surprising is that these bacteria were not found anywhere on the surface of the earth and were doing just fine, living in a small ecosystem at the bottom of a red-hot crater. The discovery of such life forms is very important from an astrobiological point of view, because on many planets outside the solar system conditions resemble the hellish crater in Turkmenistan.
Nevertheless, the gas crater of Darvaza is one of the most mysterious and interesting sights of Turkmenistan, annually attracting many explorers and travelers. If you approach the gates of hell on a clear day, you would think that it is an ordinary hole in the ground and does not deserve its gloomy local name. Gas bursts to the surface through the sandstone and ignites even more, heating the already heated air. Arriving here early in the evening, you can fully enjoy the breathtaking view of the crater with orange flames slowly sinking into darkness, all against the backdrop of the setting sun.
There are two more craters near Darvaza. They, unlike the Gates of Hell, do not burn, as the gas pressure there is very low, but they look no less spectacular. The first crater is called a “Mud Crater”. In a Mud Crater, the contents at the bottom are a grayish-brown mass that bubbles up. The second crater is called the “Emerald Crater” because of its unusual bright color. It is filled with a turquoise liquid. While examining the craters you need to be very careful, they crumble around the edges. In addition, you can feel the high air temperature and the smell of natural gas there very well. Even at present, the bitter smell of sulfur can be felt at a great distance from the crater. The closer to the crater, the greater the concentration of sulfur in the air.
The Darvaza gas crater is very different from many natural attractions around the world. First of all, it is a sense of peace and primacy, there is no paid parking and walking paths, fences or kiosks selling souvenirs. There is only endless desert all around here. Besides, there is not a soul for many kilometers.
The Darvaza gas crater has been burning for 50 years. No one knows how long the Darvaza Gas Crater hidden in the Karakum Desert will burn, or how long the beautiful anomaly called “Gates of Hell” will live, but perhaps it is worth considering it as a kind of warning to nature, and treat its resources with care. This phenomenon of Darvaza shows how rich the Turkmen land is in natural gas and how many more secrets and discoveries are hidden in the depths of Turkmenistan.