Knocking on Hells Door

Darvaza: gas crater at dawn

In one of my more obscure life experiences – picked up a heavily tattooed Ukrainian guide + 4WD and headed deep into this desert to spend a night at the 65m wide Darvaza gas crater. It used to be a modest Soviet mine shaft that collapsed into cavern of gas in 1971, to avoid the risk of releasing poisonous gasses into the atmosphere local engineers set the gas on on fire – it’s its been burning and lighting up the desert sky ever since.

Even for an experience junkie a visit to the crater is difficult to adequately describe: you’re in Turkmenistan with all its quirks; it takes a couple of hours driving through the relentless desert to reach from Ashgabat; its a very large 65m x 20m hole; and its on fire. And at some point when you walk around its circumference it feels like you’re downwind of a massive bbq where you are on the menu. Actually you are on the menu in more ways than one – sitting on the lip of the crater at night the ground is overrun with large, nibbling spiders.

Good to sleep under the stars after a nightcap of vodka and to catch a light sandstorm over the crater at dawn (above).

The conceptual desert artists amongst you are no doubt chomping at the bit – the constant stream of hot air would make an ideal updraft for something to float and soar. Visa applications to the Turkmenistan Ministry of the Interior please.

Don’t hold your breath.

Or do.

Or whatever.