The Gates Of Hell
Updated: Apr 3
There’s an instinct in all of us. All humans feel it. The instinct to try something new. The rush of adrenaline in your blood as you leap from an airplane to the skies, or the jump that your heart makes during the millisecond you realize it’s 9 am and you woke up 2 hours after your flight to the Bahamas which would have been the best weekend of your life.
One of the experiences of a lifetime you don’t want to miss is crater jumping into the largest marshmallow fire-pit in the world.
Ok, we’re kidding! You’re not actually allowed to jump into the crater, but you are allowed to witness its marvelous glory.
If you’re going to name something the “Gates of Hell” it has got to look a lot like this.
The name "Gates of Hell" was given to the gas crater by the locals of a town nearby called Darvaza - with the town’s name literally translated to “Gates” in Turkmen, referring to the fire, boiling mud, and orange flames in the large crater.
The crater itself is known to geologists as the Darvaza Gas Crater. Now, while the origin of the crater is shrouded in mystery - the science behind it is not.
How A Man-Made Catastrophe Landed On An Adventurer’s Bucket List
Back in a time when the Soviet Union still held the hearts of many in Central Asia, several Soviet Scientists (read that 10 times, faster at every turn) went to the Karakum desert in modern-day Turkmenistan to look for gas.
What they found was an abundance of natural gas in the form of methane, because oil and methane are made through the same natural processes.
Turkmenistan holds 4th place in a list of countries with huge supplies of natural gas, so this was no surprise. Deciding to drill around 7 kilometers from the town of Darvaza, they readied their equipment and set to work. Immediately after their rig started drilling, the ground gave way forming a massive crater, nearly 70 meters in diameter and roughly 30 meters deep, that swallowed the rig and all the geologists’ equipment.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that no one was hurt during the incident.
However, methane started to leak out of the crater. Though methane is not poisonous, it can displace the oxygen in the area making it difficult for the workers to breathe, not to mention methane produces high-intensity heat that can generate immense power - being the reason why the geologists wanted to drill for it in the first place.
It would seem that they had only one option, and that is to flare the excess outflow of methane from the crater before restarting their operation. So they decided to do just that.
They cleared the area, took a match, lit it, and threw it into the gas crater - expecting it to flare as long as 2 weeks…. nearly half a century later… it's still flaring.
There are several places in the world that are nearly as enigmatic as the Darvaza Gas Crater. Places like Centralia, Pennsylvania where a mine fire that’s been burning since 1962 turned a once-bustling route 61 stopover into a ghost town.
But none are as soul-crunchingly beautiful and at the same time peacefully terrifying as the Gates of Hell.
It is interesting, however, that no record of the incident has ever been found as some locals say that the fire was started about a decade or two after the crater was formed.
In 2013, the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, declared the gas crater along with its surrounding area a nature reserve. If you’re feeling extra brave, you might want to stay the night near the gas crater.
Recently, convenient port-a-potties have been installed, as well as traditional style yurts - so if you’re interested to know how Genghis Khan traveled in style while conquering nearly all of Asia, it’s in one of these bad boys.
If you will travel to the Gates of Hell, don’t forget to charge your smartphone camera so you can get amazing shots for your Instagram profile. It doesn’t only attract the adventurers and explorers in all of us, but also the local wildlife. Locals reportedly observe clusters of spiders jumping to their toasty demise, obviously drawn in by the eerily glowing lights from the Gas crater.
Occasionally, a flock of birds over the crater by flying insects which at times and with enough quantities may look like an eery spacecraft hovering over the inferno. Its majestic to behold once you arrive, but turn off the lights and you have the light show of a lifetime because since the gas crater is miles away from light pollution, you can have front row seats to the beauty of the virgin night sky.
There are two other crates on the way to Darvaza Gas crater, one of them is filled with water, and another with boiling mud - obviously the fiery entrance to lucifer’s cage is more of an attraction. This also drew in some activity with the press.
We cannot know when the gases fueling the fires in Darvaza will run out, but we can tell that this phenomenon brought about by flukes of nature, and man’s unceasing thirst for power will not last for eternity.
The Darvaza Gas Crater In Popular Culture
The crater appeared in an episode of a youtube channel called SciShow. Popular for its edutainment of young minds. It was a riveting 3 and a half minute video, we suggest you watch it here.
In 2014, the National Geographic Channel produced an episode about the Darvaza Gas Crater in their series Die Trying, hosted by celebrity George Kourounis. In it, he showed how one can rappel across the mouth of the beastly crater, and down to an area where he can gather soil samples to test for extremophile microorganisms.
His quest was to find out if anything can live in the kinds of conditions like that in the flaming hot inferno of the gas crater. Fortunately enough, he did find microorganisms living in that fiery wasteland.
"I described it as a coliseum of fire—just everywhere you look it's thousands of these small fires. The sound was like that of a jet engine, this roaring, high-pressure, gas-burning sound. And there was no smoke. It burns very cleanly, so there's nothing to obscure your view. You can just see every little lick of flame. There were a few moments that I just literally had to stop, look around, and drink in the spectacle of where I was. I could see my teammates up on the crater rim, just these tiny specks lit by this fire. You feel very, very small and very vulnerable in a place like that.” - George Kourounis
It does make one feel very small indeed.
CentrAsia Tours is ready to ferry you to the Gates of Hell. Just kidding, we just do guided tours there.