For anyone who has never heard of or seen of the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, you definitely need to.
The Gates of Hell, or Darvaza as it is known in the Turkmen language, is a large fiery crater that was created by accident in 1972. Soviet gas exploration in the area caused pockets of gas directly under the surface to be depleted, meaning the ground above was no longer supported and thus a kind of sink hole was formed. The difference with this sink hole compared with most, is the large amount of gas that was then being released. The simple answer to this problem was to set the gas on fire so that it immediately burned off. The theory was that this was a small gas deposit and it would only burn for a few years. But 50 years later and it’s still burning!
Turkmenistan became an independent state in 1991 and throughout the 90s and 2000s became famous for this mesmerising phenomenal spot. Tourists who went to Turkmenistan usually had one thing at the top of their list – The Gates of Hell.
Understandably the Turkmenistan leadership wasn’t a big fan of this attention. With amazing history, being located on the centre of the ancient Silk Road, even better nature from the shores of the Caspian Sea, to the never ending Karakorum Desert, the fertile lands along the Amu Darya River, to the ultra-modern futuristic capital city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan has a lot more to offer than just a huge hole in the middle of nowhere that’s on fire.
While the Gates of Hell is genuinely our favourite place on earth, one also can’t look past the environmental impact and pure wastage. After all millions of cubic metres of gas and emissions from the burning have been sent into the atmosphere, while the gas, if captured could be actually used. So you can see why the Turkmenistan government has repeatedly said they are going to shut down our favourite fiery crater.
The government of Turkmenistan first started announcing in the early 2000s that they would shut off the Gates of Hell. Different proposals have included just filling it in with soil, but of course the gas would probably find a way to seep out again. Building a sarcophagus like that covering Chernobyl but on a much smaller scale, or even building some sort of facility on top to capture the gas and redirect it to the main supply have also been options.
Seen as a shame on the country, there were then a few more proposals, but none came to fruition. Then in 2017, at the opening ceremony of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts games in Ashgabat, Darvaza took centre stage, featuring in the amazing displays on the big screens through hologram. Then again in 2019 the Gates of Hell featured in the Turkmenistan Rally, a car race which featured the now Former President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov famously doing some quite outstanding drifting around the flaming hole. We thought finally they had learned to live with this man made bizarre creation, and were not just ignoring it, but actually embracing it.
Then again early this year in 2022, plans were announced to put out the flame and try to close over the crater. Given how many times the proposal has been made, the sheer cost and tough job of following through, it seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Some have argued that due to the pressure, even if they successfully closed Darvaza in, that a hole would soon form elsewhere, which makes sense given the most famous burning hole in the world isn’t the only one, with several others just nearby, most of which have not been set on fire.
Only time will tell, but we doubt very highly that it will happen any time soon and we’ll still get the chance to enjoy many more nights sitting at its edge, enthralled by its incredible glow.