Gate to Hell

Turkmenistan 2019

Gate to Hell

In September 2019 I was – on behalf of Olympus – for a few days in Turkmenistan, a totally crazy and almost completely unknown country. Basically very rich due to high natural gas deposits with a capital Ashgabat from the future 22nd century – in which only white and freshly washed cars are allowed to drive, by law!

The rest of the country is 95% desert and small desert and nomadic villages. In the middle of the Karakum Desert was also the main destination of my tour, the popularly called “Gate to the Underworld/Hell” (Turkmen: “jähenneme açylan gapy”). The gas crater of Darvaza, which has been burning for 50 years.

During test drilling, Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas deposits, geologists came across a gas-filled underground cave. The ground under the drilling platform collapsed, creating a crater about 230 feet in diameter.

Tor zur Hölle, Krater von Darvaza, Turkmenistan

The escaping methane gas was ignited to avoid health consequences, since the CO2 produced during combustion is more environmentally friendly. At that time, in 1971, scientists assumed that the crater would burn out after a few days. But it is still burning today. Apparently, there are connections, so-called vents, to the depths through which methane continues to flow in small quantities to the surface.

With today’s technology, it would probably be possible to close the crater. However, this would be very expensive and Turkmenistan is slowly recognizing the crater’s tourist value – even if the country, with just under 20,000 tourists per year, is certainly not yet one of the top Instagram hotspots 😉 There are even plans to build a glass viewing platform over the crater.

For me, the “Gate to Hell” is one of the most exciting and impressive places on our wonderful Earth, not least because of the absolutely incredible starry sky and a landscape illuminated by the gas, which made me dream of being an astronaut on the planet Mars.

Gate to Hell

Karakum desert and Nomad village Damla