Darvaza means gateway in Turkmen and the ex town of Darvaz was the gateway from one province to another. In 1971 a Soviet drilling team was routinely drilling for gas here. It is said that sink a pipe anywhere in Turkmenistan and you will strike natural gas. We do not know what went wrong here as the Soviets were never a wrap for transperency but the drilling here resulted in the earth collapsing and a massive crater forming. Gas was escaping through the collapsed earth in the crater so someone decided to light it, the thought being that it would burn itself out in a couple of weeks. 40 years on it is still burning and represents a unique and bizarre tourist attraction!
The road north of Ashgabat is an uneneding straight line through the desert. The countryside is monotonous scrubby desert broken by the occasional “Lawrence of Arabia” classic sand dune. The 200 odd km drive takes 4 hours with a detour to wander through a local village on the way. The turn off to Darvaza is unsignposted and the township itself is long gone a legacy of the dictator Turkmenbashi’s visit during the construction of yhe highway. He found the town to look scruffy so on a whim he sent the bulldozers in and razed it to the ground.
The crater is an 11 km desert “bush bash” and my driver tackles it as if he were doing the Paris to Dakar rally. I am relieved to get out at the crater and walk the rest of the way to our campsite.
From afar the crater looks unremarkable during the day. It appears to be the size and shape of the MCG. Up close the view is jaw dropping. The hole goes down some 30 metres and the scorched black earth is pockmarked with flames leaping through invisible pores through which the gas is escaping. Around the periphery the flames only dart up a couple of metres seemingly dancing with the breeze. In the very heart of this inferno are two large vents propelling flames a good 10 metres into the air. All around there is the smell and sensation of getting too close to a lit natural gas oven. I watch the sun slowly set before heading back for a BBQ chicken dinner and some porty tasting Turkmen wine. As the night takes hold the crater glows a bright gas flame orange. I revisit the crater in the dark and the vision of hell is complete. The demonstration of natural forces at work is truly awesome!
Back on our camp mats sipping vodka and eating melons the milky way splayed above us with a clarity that I have not seen before. Unfortunately the northern hemispheric stars are foreign to me but I am sure I spotted the constellation of scorpio on the northern horizon. An early night and off to an uncomfortable and colds night sleep in the desert. A final dawn view before it is off to leave this stunning and remarkable place.