The Gate to Hell. Darvaza.
We left Ashgabat around lunchtime in a convoy of three 4WD cars, packed with tents, sleeping bags, food, water, and, of course, many bottles of Vodka. We were heading to the site of a Soviet mining accident in 1971 when Russian geologists were drilling for oil. They found gas instead, and the drilling rig collapsed into a crater. The gas was expected to burn out within days, yet 40 years later it is still burning brightly.
We were heading for Darvaza (also known as Derweze), located in the middle of the Karakum desert. The roads were positively medieval. The road surface had melted in +50C temperatures creating massive wheel ruts and tracks. We spent more time driving beside the road than actually on it, and the experience was similar to that of being on a continual theme park rollercoaster. We arrived about 19:30 to set up camp, and look at the burning hole beneath us.
We watched the sun go down and the crater began to dominate the landscape. It had been visible before, but with darkness, and no moon, it was giving off a huge orange glow and flames could be seen leaping out of the black landscape.
Barbequed chicken, tomatoes, bread (Russian black loaves) and copious amounts of vodka were consumed as we watched the show in front of us. From 500 metres away there was no noise, and all around was silent. I watched the fire of the crater against the black of the desert, while shooting stars streaked across the sky.
Gone Midnight, time to actually go down to the crater…