The Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan is also known as The Door To Hell. Sounds pretty interesting, right? It is, and so is the story behind it.
If you came here in 1970, there would be little to see except a vast expanse of desert. A year later, there's a great big burning hole in the ground. So what happened?
In 1971 geologists went looking for oil. They didn't find it, but they did find gas. The ground collapsed and became the crater you can see today. The geologists set light to the gas in order to stop it spreading to, and possibly poisoning, nearby towns. And the gas is still burning!
Aliens? I should add that this report of the crater's origin is the most widely accepted one, but, it seems, no one is entirely certain if it's true. If you want, you can make up your own story. An asteroid crashing into the desert? Aliens? The place certainly has a slightly unearthly feeling about it.
Rather Eerie I visited the crater late in the evening, when it was already dark. It initially appeared over the horizon as a rather eerie, beautiful orange glow in the distance. With no other lights around, it looked a bit like the last lingering remains of a long-gone sunset.
Up close, and romantic visions of sunsets are banished as the raw character of the place becomes clear.
The crater walls are vertical at the top and degenerate into a giant crumble-like mix of rocks, earth and rubble on the crater floor. The walls are lit up by hundreds of individual clusters of orange yellow flame. You can almost touch the heat. Each flame on its own looks pretty harmless but gazing down at the expanse of fire on the crater floor it really looks as though the ground itself is burning. It's not a place you'd want to walk through (though George Kourounis did exactly that, dressed in a Kevlar suit, in 2014). Some of the flames sporadically burst and spit a little higher but most of them burn with a nice even flame, just right for cooking toast.
Careful! Be careful as you walk round the edge of the crater - keep well back. There are no safety fences here! It's roughly 250 meters round the circumferance of the crater, so you could get round quite quickly if you're short of time. But why rush? It's probably taken you several hours to get here, and it'll take you several more hours to get anywhere else. And besides, there's nothing else quite like this crater on the planet. Take your time.
One of the most memorable views for me was when I saw other people from my tour group across the other side of the crater. They appeared as tiny stick people, shimmering in the heat haze, cast in a warm orange glow, standing on top of a great wall of illuminated, fire-baked rock. What a sight! Any Science Fiction movie would be graced by such a scene.
Why Visit? The Darvaza crater is unique, and that's reason enough to visit. Who wouldn't want to go to a place called The Door To Hell? It's man-meddles-with-nature origin is appealing too - is there a lesson here for mankind? Initially the geologists thought it might burn itself out in a matter of days or weeks. Yet here we are, nearly 50 years later, and it's still going strong.
Have you visited the Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan? What did you think of it? What do you tell other people about it?
Rob has visited more than 50 countries. He's travelled with organised groups and independently. His travel photos have appeared in many publications and on many websites. His favourite meal is breakfast.