WanderingTrader

Darvaza Gas Crater: The Door To Hell In The Karakum Desert Of Turkmenistan

Darvaza Gas Crater located in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan, is one of the most unusual geological features one can visit in the world. The formation may have started burning as early as 1971.  A decision was then made by Soviet scientists, to burn off poisonous methane gas, that had been discovered at the site. Unwittingly, they instead created, one of the most unique tourist destinations in the world. It is our 9th stop in the travel series A World Far And Away.

The Darvaza Gas Crater has brought over the years, international interest among geologists, explorers and scientists alike.

The Russian word Darvaza (Derweze in the Turkmen language) means gate. There is also some evidence the village which was named for the crater, may also originate from either Urdu or Hindi.

The village of Derweze, was disbanded on order of the President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, in 2004. He considered the settlement to be unsightly for tourists.

This unintended attraction, has brought many people from around the world, that would most likely never visit Turkmenistan.

George Kourounis

A famous Canadian explorer for example, by the name of George Kourounis, became the first person to amazingly descend into the crater itself. Using a special heat reflective suit, and a modified breathing system, he was able to walk around, the bottom of the crater for 15 minutes.

His purpose was to collect samples of earth,for later examination. It was soon discovered, that there indeed was bacteria, living in these samples.

The Darvaza Gas Crater is located in the Karakum Desert, which is the 13th largest desert globally and covers some 15,400 square miles. It is renowned as being the hottest desert in Asia.

The Darvaza gas crater and the surrounding area, including where the tents usually are pitched, a couple of hundred meters away to the south of the crater.

The area is known for its large gas and oil deposits. In attempting to exploit this resource, engineers discovered the natural gas pocket, that would become the  Darvaza Crater.

It was reported at the time, that the ground underneath the drilling equipment, began to give way. The hole that resulted, continued to grow, until it reached its present size.

Another story claims, that the crater that now measures a diameter near 226 foot or 69 meters, just simply appeared either in the 1950’s or 1960’s.

Both versions of the narrative do agree that a decision was made by experts, to use a procedure known as flaring, to consume the excess gas that was leaking from the ground.

The calculation was reasonably considered, that the gas would burn off in a matter of weeks.

Nearly a half of a century later, it is still actively burning. There is no real way to tell, how much gas remains in the area, adjacent to the hole.

The Darvaza Crater is 98 feet (30 meters) deep and can be seen at night from 25 miles away.

The hole itself burns at very high temperatures, so tourists can stand next to it for only a few minutes at a time. More than 50,000 visitors have arrived at the site, in the last 8 years alone.

Up until 2004, as to be expected, various shops and stands sold a variety of merchandise and food items. They were then removed, for an unknown reason. They did interfere with the enjoyment of the natural beauty of the desert and crater.

In the spring of 2010, the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamendow, ordered that the unusual crater should be closed, despite it being a major tourist attraction. He instead, was interested in further exploration of natural gas in the area. It is one of the largest gas fields in the world.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
President of Turkmenistan

This never was really enforced, so visitors continued to come and many of them would actually camp nearby. In 2013, President Berdimuhamendow declared the part of the Karakum Desert with the crater, to be a nature reserve.

The Darvaza Gas Crater was featured in a short-lived series Die Trying, sponsored by the National Geographic Channel in 2014. The episode Crater of Fire presented George Kourounis, collecting microorganisms at the bottom of the crater.

During the night, birds can be seen flying near the outside perimeter of the crater, to feed on the numerous flying beetles, that are attracted to the heat.

Map of Turkmenistan with the location of the crater identified.

If you are are interested in wild desert camping, one can see countless stars in the clear skies at night. The surrounding landscape can be quite beautiful, during the day and in the evening.

Two additional craters can be found nearby,but neither of them are on fire.

Location

The Darvaza Gas Crater is located about 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.

The drive to the Darvaza Crater will take you about 3.5 hours each way. Darvaza lies a short distance off the highway, connecting Ashgabat to Dashoguz. This last part of the journey, is the only part of your trip, that will be traveling off road. It usually is a 20 minute drive.

A traveler can leave the capital in the afternoon and return by midnight, after spending several hours at the crater.874

Admission

There is no official admission to the crater.

Tours

For inexperienced travelers, it might be better to book a trip, with a local tour company. You can still choose whether to camp out in the desert, or to return to the city of Ashgabat.

Days and Hours of Operations

It is available for viewing at any time of the day, throughout the calendar year. However, part of your viewing experience, must take place after dark. The Crater is most impressive in the evening hours.

Lodging

Is readily available in Ashgabat.

Valuable Tips

  • One should wear layered clothes, it is hot during the day, but becomes rather cold in the evening. This is especially the case in the spring, autumn and winter.
  • Proper footwear is important, as you are making your way around the area of the Crater.
  • Bring extra bottled water,so you can stay hydrated during your visit.
  • Bring any supplies you will think you will need for camping, including food and snacks.
  • Make sure you have a couple of flashlights.
  • If you are going to be there during any daylight hours, one should apply sunscreen.
  • There are no public facilities.
  • If you plan to spend the night near the crater, plan for a wonderful, but rustic experience.

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