As a traveler, you might have been to many places and we are sure you want to go to many more. But the one place are not sure if you want to check out is the Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan. We’ve seen many photographs of this place of hell and each one has made us shiver.
Turkmenistan is in Central Asia, bordering Kazahkstan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Karakum Desert, meaning Black Sand Desert, is in the middle of the country, and as deserts go, is large, unfriendly and remote. It’s at the heart of the desert that you’ll find the Darvaza Gas Crater, also known as ‘The Doors to Hell.’
The crater is the size of a football field, it’s a large pit, and – it’s on fire. The fires have been burning for almost 50 years and are showing no signs of ever going out.
So, how did these fires start and why can’t we put them out?
There are no official records about the crater or the fire but there are explanations that over the years have become acceptable. The story goes that in 1971 Soviet engineers were drilling and by mistake, hit a huge underground gas cavern. The area where they were drilling collapsed, forming a giant sinkhole. The engineers went down the sinkhole, with their drilling rig and all their equipment. It was a major disaster, but as the Russians did in those times, they covered it up.
No-one knows if this is really what happens and no-one knows if there were fatalities. One must think if the sinkhole opened up on that disastrous day, it must have swallowed everything up around it.
Because this sinkhole was now over, or part of, or had been allowed to open up these dangerous gases, the soviets set fire to it. They set the area on fire and they left. The gases were poisonous and this seemed the best way to contain them.
Does this sound odd? Does it sound like a mystery? Or does it just like a stupid and badly planned expedition? As much as we love mysteries, it sounds like a badly planned expedition all round. It sounds like a Soviet era accident, resulting in a fire that won’t go out because there is so much natural and poisonous gas. Gas and fire go well together. Or badly, depending on which way you look at it.
Not too many travelers head to Turkmenistan at the best of times. It is a ‘closed nation’ and it’s not easy to get a visa. Even less travellers head to the Doors Of Hell. The idea of being close to gas and fire is not appealing, even though the photographs of the Darvaza Crater are incredible. It’s a giant sinkhole, 69 meters wide and 30 meters deep, filled with flames.
One person has ventured into the crater and some may say he is a bit mad. He himself says it was the most dangerous and frightening thing he’s ever done, as well as one of the most extraordinary. George Kourounis is a Canadian explorer. The expedition was partially funded by National Geographic and the aim – well, explorers like to explore! They wanted to know what was going on this pit, could there be any life down there and would this fire ever go out.
Although it is pretty clear (almost clear, unless the whole Russian story is also made up) how the fire started, Kourounis has said that the area itself is pretty unique. The fact that there is a pit of gas, burning methane, is in itself a mystery.
Kourounis was well prepared for the expedition and pretty much looked like he was in a scene from a movie. He wore a specially designed heat-reflective suit, had a breathing mask and helmet and had custom built ropes and harnesses that would not catch on fire, or worse, melt. It can’t be easy, even for a stuntman, going into a burning gas filled pit. He did it. Kourounis went in, did what he had to do, collected samples, and luckily for him, he came back out again.
He’s the only person in the world to have ever done that. Mind you, not too many people in the world go to this pit, even people who live in the desert. It is an area that people studiously avoid, unless they’re intrepid travelers or explorers too.
There are some benefits to exploring the pit. Apparently there are planets that resemble the area – highly gaseous and boiling hot. Perhaps by understanding this pit, it will be easier to understand life on other planets and to try and understand what life can exist on other planets.
Because we all know, as mysterious as it is, that there must be life on other planets. It makes no sense that there is only life on ours.
Turkmenistan has the fourth largest natural gas supplies in the world. There is so much gas that they clearly don’t really mind all this gas going to waste and burning. And even if they managed to extinguish the fire, which is pretty impossible, the gas would still be coming out into the environment, perhaps being even more dangerous and poisonous.
As we say, these are all just probabilities. We THINK this is how the fire started, with one huge accident. There is no proof and the Russians have never admitted to causing an accident. Yes, we know they were drilling for oil. But we don’t know if they were in that area and we don’t know if they started the fire.
This area could be something completely different to what we imagine. If you look at the photographs, it does look beautiful, captivating, other-worldly, and also – it does look like hell. The Darvaza Gas Crater is a place that we suggest you stay well away from. It’s dangerous, insane, HOT and also – we don’t really know what is going in there or under there. Heres an interesting thought, “Darvaza” in Hindi and Urdu means “Door”. And the gas crater is nicknamed “Door to Hell”. We don’t know how that came to be, but we think the name is definitely appropriate!