Flaming Door to Hell in the Devil’s Sandbox along Infamous Silk Road

March 22nd, 2013 Permalink

Out in the middle of a hot, dry Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan, along the ancient Silk Road, Soviet-era scientists found a cavern of natural gas and started drilling. But the drill hit another pocket in the cavern, right before the ground collapsed, and the entire drilling rig disappeared into the huge Darvaza Gas Crater. Then poisonous gas started to pour out. So what did the scientists decide to do in order to avoid a potential environmental disaster? Burn it off. Genius! That was in 1971, but the flaming natural gas crater is still burning 42 years later. The locals dubbed it, “The Door to Hell.” Derweze can also be spelled Darvaza and that translates to “gate,” so it is sometimes referred to as “Hell’s Gate” or the “Gates of Hell.” [35 Photos]

Golden Eagle Silk Road, The Door to Hell in Darvaza, Turkmenistan

Back along the “Golden Eagle Silk Road” is the most famous crater, the Door to Hell. After a Soviet drilling accident in 1971, and a decision to burn the gas off, this hole — sometimes also called the Gates of Hell, Hell’s Gate — has been continually burning for 42 years. The locals named this huge gas reserve crater the ‘Door to Hell” because it is on fire with bright orange flames and has boiling mud. Derweze’s large crater is has a 230 feet (70 m) diameter. Photo #1 by Martha de Jong-Lantink

The Door to Hell in the nighttime at Turkmenistan, Darvaza

The Door to Hell in the nighttime. The crater goes down to a depth of about 66 feet (20 m). Photo #2 by flydime

Standing on the edge of the Door to Hell, Darvasa gas crater in Turkmenistan

Standing on the edge of the Darvasa gas crater in Turkmenistan. Wikipedia explained, that Soviet scientists found this in 1971 and started drilling for natural gas. “The ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and disappeared. No lives were lost in the incident. However, large quantities of methane gas were released, creating an environmental problem and posing a potential danger to the people of the nearby villages. Fearing the release of further poisonous gases from the cavern, the scientists decided to burn it off.” They expected the gas “would burn within days, but it is still burning, decades after it was set on fire.” Photo #3 by Tormod Sandtorv

Camping at Darvaza, Turkmenistan

Camping at Darvaza. The photographer noted, “This enormous pit of fire defies description, and to get a sense of scale is very difficult, even when standing at the edge of the pit of flames.” Photo #4 by Mike Moss

The Great Eye - 30 megapixel panorama of the Door to Hell

The Great Eye – 30 megapixel panorama. The photographer added, “For scale: those dots around the edge are people!” Photo #5 by Neil Melville

Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza Turkmenistan

Some say the Soviet drilling rig is still down there on the other side of the “Door to Hell.” Photo #6 by Brian Shrader

Breath of the Dragon at the Door to Hell

The hot spots are mostly over 200 feet (60 meter) of the entire 230 feet. The photographer called this, “Breath of the Dragon.” Photo #7 by Neil Melville

Three brave souls on the edge of the Door to Hell

Three brave souls on the edge of the Door to Hell. Once upon a time, there was rumored to be a “Well to Hell” where the scientists drilled too far down and heard thousands, perhaps millions, of suffering souls screaming.” But Snopes reported the claims of hearing the damned scream at the Well of Hell were false. Photo #8 by Brian Shrader

Derweze, 42 years later the Door to Hell gas deposit is still burning

Looking inside the burning cavern of gas, the photographer called this, “The Cracks of Doom.” Photo #9 by Neil Melville

Golden Eagle Silk Road

Golden Eagle Silk Road. According to the CIA World Fact Book, “Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. The area was ruled in antiquity by various Persian empires, and was conquered by Alexander the Great, Muslim crusaders, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians. In medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves, which have yet to be fully exploited, have begun to transform the country.” Photo #10 by Martha de Jong-Lantinky

Best (and only) local restaurant in Darvaza

According to the photographer, this is “the best (and only) local restaurant in Darvaza.” Rather scarily, Wikitravel reports, “Turkmenistan, like any other Central Asian country, is a fairly corrupt country. Corrupt officials and authorities may ask for bribes, and so if you are pulled over for any reason, simply pay the bribe. It is also possible that you will be asked by police for documents. This is rather rare, but this can happen at any time and they have a legal right to do so. You should carry your passport and visa with you, though in practice, it is better to make a color scan of the first two pages of your passport and your visa before you arrive. Carry the color copies with you when you’re walking around, and keep the original documents in the hotel safe. Also, upon arrival make a copy of your visa page. The scanned documents will almost always suffice. If not, make it clear to the Police that he will have to come to your hotel to see the originals. Nevertheless, Policemen will demand a bribe for this. Always be polite with the Police, but also be firm. Although rare, police can take visitors/locals to secluded places to beat up people for even more money, so stay alert. Police are the most frequent problem you will always come up across and be warned that they are generally very aggressive, especially during the night, expect some harassment from them. Many hotels, including very good ones, are frequently bugged by the police. Do not sign any documents provided by the police if it is in a language you do not know, as it may be that they may try to rip you off for some more money. Just be polite with them, and just say that you do not understand it. A curfew prevents people from leaving from 11pm, and this law applies to non-residents as well. Going out will get you arrested. Taking taxis or hiring private drivers may avoid problems, but don’t be too dependent on this option, as it is possible it may not save your life.” Photo #11 by Stefan Krasowski

Dardzha Monster

The CIA’s World Fact Book states, “Looking like a monstrous ogre with something gooey in its mouth, this enhanced satellite image shows the Dardzha Peninsula in western Turkmenistan, which lies among the shallow coastal terraces of the Caspian Sea. Strong winds create huge sand dunes near the water, some of which are partly submerged. Further inland, the dunes transition to low sand plains.” Photo #12 by USGS / NASA

Bing map aerial of Door to Hell- The Burning Crater of Darvaza

Bing map aerial of Door to Hell. Photo #13 by Bing Maps / Microsoft / DigitalGlobe

Dust Storm Over Turkmenistan as seen by ISS

“This west-looking astronaut photograph, taken with a short focal length lens from the International Space Station, spans a wide swath of central Asia—from Afghanistan, along the length of Turkmenistan, and beyond to the Caspian Sea. Winds blowing down the largest river valley in the region, the Amudarya, were strong enough to raise a large dust storm. Dust appears as a light brown mass extending into the center of the image from the lower right. Diffuse dust from prior windy weather appears over much of the area making a regional haze that hides landscape details. The haze partly obscures the irrigated agriculture in Turkmenistan and entirely obscures the Caspian Sea. Numerous rivers rise in the Hindu Kush range (lower left). The Band-i Amir River is a major tributary of the main regional river, the Amudarya, which it reaches via a deep canyon. The Amudarya River was the major historical contributor of water to the Aral Sea, but today extensive diversion of river water for agricultural purposes has led to desiccation of the sea bed. The exposed sea bed is a major source of saline dusts contaminated with agricultural chemicals, and it poses a significant environmental and human health hazard to central Asia. To a lesser extent, dusts are also mobilized from sediments along the Amudarya River channel. The Paropamisus Range and the Amudarya (also known as the Oxus River) are mentioned in histories of Alexander the Great’s famous military expedition from Greece to India. His horsemen are described as having made a fast side excursion from near the Caspian Sea (image top right) as far as the Amudarya (image lower right).” Photo #14 by NASA / ISS

Karakum Desert

About 350 people live in the village of Derweze, which is located in the middle of the Karakum Desert pictured here. There is little rainfall, about 2.75 inches (70 mm) in the north to 6 inches (150 mm) in the south annually, with most of the rain happening in winter and early spring. Photo #15 by flydime

Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan

Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan. Photo #16 by David Stanley

Pit of Fire and Mud close to the flaming Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan

Pit of Fire and Mud close to the flaming Darvaza Gas Crater. The Karakum Desert has large reserves of natural gas, oil, and has the third largest sulphur deposits in the world. Photo #17 by farflungistan

The ground collapsed with an explosion and the Darvaza Gas Crater was born, burning to this day

The ground collapsed with an explosion and the Darvaza Gas Crater was born, still burning 42 years later. Photo #18 by Stefan Krasowski

Door to Hell on Golden Eagle Silk Road

Wikitravel advises, “It is strongly recommended that you apply for a Turkmenistan visa before travelling to Turkmenistan. It is reported that travellers applying for visa at Ashgabat airport have been detained in the transit area of the airport for several days due to missing documents. A government approved letter of invitation is required of some tourists such as residents of the United States of America before a visa can be issued.” Photo #19 by Martha de Jong-Lantink

Door to Hell In Need of Brimstone

The photographer called this shot, “In Need of Brimstone.” Photo #20 by Neil Melville

Camels grazing before the Great Kyz Kala, Merv, Turkmenistan

Sandstorms and dust storms are common in the sparsely populated Karakum Desert, averaging one person per 2.5 square miles. This desert makes up about 80-90% of Turkmenistan, so the Door to Hell is not the only thing to see. For example, these camels are grazing in front of the Great Kyz Kala, Merv, Turkmenistan. Photo #21 by David Stanley

Port of Merv, ancient city in central asia, today in Turkmenistan

Port of Merv, ancient city in central Asia, today in Turkmenistan. Wikipedia states,”Merv was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today’s Mary in Turkmenistan. Several cities have existed on this site, which is significant for the interchange of culture and politics at a site of major strategic value. It is claimed that Merv was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The site of ancient Merv has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.” Photo #22 by Mark and Delwen

Camel crossing sign in the desert of Turkmenistan

You can tell it’s an area that is hot and dry, so you might be feeling a bit thirsty or wondering how to cool off here? Photo #23 by Neil Melville

Camels drinking from a Leaky Pipe Oasis

Leaky Pipe Oasis in the Karakum Desert. The photographer wrote, “This one I had to run to the internet cafe and upload… This is a sight from the Karakum Desert on the highway from Turkmenbashi to Ashgabat. There was a camel crossing sign on the road, and behold there actually are camels just wandering around, crossing the road. Every time there was a leak in the massive water pipe, the animals, camels mostly, would gather and drink. (Humans would also come for baths.)” Photo #24 by Peretz Partensky

Kow Ata, Turkmenistan

So if you were at the Door to Hell and didn’t want to drive about about 161.5 miles (260 km) to the capital of Ashgabat and a hotel pool, or access to the Caspian Sea, then you could stop about half way, about 66 miles (107 km) at Kow Ata, Turkmenistan. Inside the karst Bakharden Cave is the Kow Ata Underground Lake. “Bakharden Cave is also home to the largest colony of bats known in the Commonwealth of Independent States countries. Because of this, the cave has been declared a national nature preserve.” Photo #25 by Audun K

Entrance to Kow Ata, an underground sulphur lake

This is the entrance to Kow Ata, and 200 ft. underground is a sulphur lake that has been equated to an underground thermal spa. Photo #26 by Fraser Lewry

Kow Ata Underground Lake

You take a long metal staircase 200 feet down into the Bakharden Cave. The lake is about 235 feet long. There is reported to be a high amount of different minerals, salt, and mostly sulfur scents in the very warm water, 33-37 degrees Celsius (91-99 deg Fahrenheit) year round. Kow Ata Underground Lake is sometimes translated into the ‘old man in the cave,’ but may also be translated as Father of Caves or Father of Lakes. Photo #27 by flydime

Natural thermal spa, Kow Ata Underground lake in Bakharden Cave, a national nature preserve

Though considered a natural thermal spa, Kow Ata Underground lake in Bakharden Cave, is also a national nature preserve due to the bat colony. That means it has a heavy smell of both bat guano and sulphur. Photo #28 by Audun K

Dark turquoise water instead of the flaming Door to Hell, Darvaza Water Crater

This Darvaza water crater is closer to the Door to Hell. The photographer noted, “This sinkhole is full of strikingly green water. (Also, alas, junk that probably gets blown in.)” Photo #29 by Simon Bradshaw

The Door to Hell, a burning natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan

The photographer wrote, “It´s actually bigger than it looks. Three 17 mm shots stitched together.” Photo #30 by Tormod Sandtorv

Burning Darvaza Gas Crater

Burning Darvaza Gas Crater. Photo #31 by Stefan Krasowski

Mesmerized at the Door to Hell

Mesmerized at the Door to Hell. The photographer called it, “The Black Gate.” Photo #32 by Neil Melville

Flaming crater at night, Flaming crater, Darvaza. Karakoum desert

Flaming crater at night. Photo #33 by valdosilasol

Turkmenistan president had wanted the hole closed or more natural gas holes developed

Wikipedia states, “In April 2010, the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed, or measures be taken to limit its influence on the development of other natural gas fields in the area. Turkmenistan plans to increase its production of natural gas, intending to increase its export of gas to China, India, Iran, Russia, and Western Europe from its present level to 75 million cubic metre in the next 20 years” Photo #34 by valdosilasol

Door to Hell

Jumping for joy at the Door to Hell? Photo #35 by Neil Melville

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