Darvaza Gas Crater or the “Door to Hell” is one of Central Asia’s most man-made extraordinary phenomenon hidden behind a sand dune in the Khartoum desert. The site is around 260km from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, and well worth the journey.
History of the Darvaza Gas Crater
The whole of Khartoum desert, the world’s 13th largest, is rich in natural gas and oil, so research and digging are no rare occurrences in the vast and arid area. In 1971, Soviet engineers were drilling on the location of the crater, searching for a black gold, but instead of an oil basin, they stumbled on a natural gas pocket.
The ground beneath the drilling equipment collapsed and a large sinkhole was formed. The poisonous methane gas being emitted was destroying local wildlife and presented the danger of flammability and possible explosion, a decision was made by scientists to burn off the gas to stop the leakage. A quick fix they thought. That was 47 years ago!
The “Door to Hell” experience
About 18km before reaching the huge fiery hole, our 4×4 stopped off on the west side of the road to see a smaller crater surrounded by a metal barrier, there is no fire but there is a strong smell of gas. A little further along was another crater filled with water and bubbles away slightly. The best was yet to come!
The drive to the main Darvaza gas crater was a bumpy one and super dusty as they are currently working on a road and electrics for the upcoming rally which the President Berdimuhamedow will be participating in.
The tents and camping were set up before the sun went down, we couldn’t wait to run down to the crater to explore and see what all the fuss is about. You really feel the heat of the burning gas crater go in waves from the dancing fire making photos a little difficult at times. The hole is the size of a football pitch and is around 30m deep, you can see the enormity of it if you sit on the huge sand dune, perfect viewing platform.
As the sky became completely pitch black, you could see why the crater is aptly named by local people as “The Door to Hell.” (Darvaza means Gate in the Turkmen language), the flaming, red and orange crater is like nothing I’d seen before, it’s crazy!
Waking up before sunrise, you have to see this spectacular attraction in this soft light, it was back up the hill to watch the sun rise from across the desert. After breakfast, we packed up our camp, watched the Giant Gerbil hop in and out of holes in the sand and headed back to Ashgabat where the marble city is a stark contrast to the rugged surroundings by Darvaza Gas Crater. This really was an unforgettable experience!
What to know about Darvaza Gas Crater
Visa to Turkmenistan
To obtain a tourist visa, you must be booking a tour no matter which country you are from. You will need to supply an LOI (letter if invitation) issued by a travel agency licensed in Turkmenistan. If you are on a transit visa which allows you to visit up to 5 days, you are not required to obtain the visa and LOI. There has been a high rejection rate of Turkmenistan visas in the past but 2018 seem to be more positive.
Getting to Turkmenistan
Our flight left from Dubai to Ashgabat via Turkmenistan Airlines, however other airlines fly to this destination including Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa and Emirates.
Getting to Darvaza Gas Crater
Our trip was with Trekkup Dubai who organised the trip with a local travel agency including the 4×4’s to take us from Ashgabat and back. There are other options of getting to the ‘Door to Hell’ by using local tour companies or by getting a transit visa and using local buses, trains, cars, motorbikes and hitch-hiking.
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