It’s understandable if the Gates of Hell are something you’d prefer to avoid — at least until you learn it’s a tourist attraction in the central Asian country of Turkmenistan.
If you would like to visit the Gates of Hell, a flaming crater about 200 feet wide and 70 feet deep, the travel window appears to be closing quickly.
Explaining that the crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby,” President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now instructed local officials to “find a solution to extinguish the fire,” Agence France-Presse reports.
“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people,” Berdymukhamedov said in televised remarks.
A Difficult-To-Visit Location
“Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries,” the Central Intelligence Agency explains. “The area was ruled in antiquity by various Persian empires, and was conquered by Alexander the Great, Muslim armies, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians.”
Turkmenistan, which is slightly larger than the state of California, became a Soviet republic in 1924. It later achieved independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR.
Its neighboring countries are Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. It is also bordered by the Caspian Sea.
A Raging Inferno
The desert crater known as the Gates of Hell but officially called the “Darvaza gas crater” is roughly 160 miles north of Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, in the middle of the Karakum desert.
Accounts vary, but it is generally believed the crater was created in 1971 by Soviet geologists drilling for oil.
The ground could not support the weight of the drilling equipment because there was an unknown underground methane pocket. When the ground collapsed and created the crater, the geologists set the methane on fire in hopes it would burn out within a couple of weeks, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Surprisingly, the fire has been burning ever since then.
An Eyewitness Account
So, what’s it like to walk through the Gates of Hell?
George Kourounis, a Canadian-born scientific explorer, was the first person to touch the bottom of the crater in 2013, and the trip required him to wear a heat-resistant suit. The bottom of the crater “felt like being on another planet,” Kourounis told Insider in 2020.
“The walls are lit up. Everything is glowing orange from the fire,” Kourounis explained. “There’s poisonous gas everywhere.”
Kourounis and his team discovered that — like a natural convection oven — cool air descends into the center of the crater. After that air is superheated, it rises along the crater’s edges at 207 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The heat is unbelievable,” Kourounis said. “You stand at the edge of this thing, and as the wind blows across the crater, it carries that heat into you. You feel like you’re being baked in an oven.”
Visiting The Gates Of Hell And Turkmenistan
If you’d like to visit the Gates of Hell — in Turkmenistan, anyway — here’s what you need to know.
First of all, international commercial flights to Turkmenistan have been suspended. If you are able to find a charter flight, it must use the Turkmenabat International Airport, which is 290 miles by air and 385 miles by road from Ashgabat, the U.S. State Department explains.
That said, the State Department also notes that U.S. citizens should “Reconsider travel to Turkmenistan due to Embassy Ashgabat’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.”
Furthermore, “it may be difficult to enter and leave Turkmenistan and travelers should expect delays entering Turkmenistan and returning to the United States.”
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