I remember first coming across a picture of the Darvaza Crater a few years ago and desperately wanting to go see it for myself. So you can imagine how excited I was that it was on our itinerary for this Silk Road overland trip!
The story goes that the crater was formed after a natural gas drilling rig (Turkmenistan has the 4th largest reserves of natural gas in the world) collapsed into an underground cavern back in 1971. Worried that methane gas would spread to the neighbouring villages and cause issues, Soviet scientists set it on fire, expecting it to burn out within a few weeks. Over 4 decades later – I can tell you that it is still very much burning!
We arrived at about 7pm after a 20-minute 4WD trip, while it was still light and we had fantastic views over the Karakum (Black Sand) desert.
Standing close (but not too close – it depends on how brave you are) to the edge, you can look down into the crater and see hundreds of tongues of flame erupting with great force from where the gas is escaping. You can also get blasted with very hot air, depending on how the wind changes direction, and the noise is, as you might expect, akin to that of a blowtorch! Though there is no smoke – it is natural gas after all!
As darkness fell, the crater took on a new form, which truly reflected in every sense its popular name “The Door to Hell”.
One of the really great things about the site is that it is completely undeveloped. The road is 4WD only, there are no tourist stalls (nobody selling anything in fact), no walkways, no barriers to stop you falling in, no infrastructure at all. Just you, the desert and the crater. It is truly wonderful!
It’s the biggest and best bon-fire you’ll ever see, and you really can sit there mesmerized for hours.