All images John Bradley via English Russia
Few people venture into the heart of the Kara-kum desert, but those who do are drawn by an eerie bright light that illuminates the night sky for miles around. From afar a glowing red light seems to float on the horizon, enticing onlookers ever closer to peer into what seems like Dante’s Inferno. Only when they arrive at the edge of the pit do they realize the bright lights are the dancing flames of a deep burning crater, known to locals as ‘The Doorway to Hell’.
This vast sinkhole in Turkmenistan was created many years ago by a Soviet gas company drilling for potential resources in the area. Reports of the expedition vary; some say the pit was created as early as the 1950s, another says 1971.
When drilling started, the rig suddenly disappeared into the ground. It had drilled into an underground cavern, the roof of which had collapsed, forming a 60 meter-wide, 20 meters deep. It was also rich in natural gas, which was now largely unusable and escaping into the atmosphere.
Some bright spark then thought, to contain the noxious gas, that it would be a good idea to burn it off, and so ignited the crater. Since then, the gas riddled pit has been burning indefinitely, and shows little sign of letting up.
There is now a lucrative tourism trade surrounding Turkmenistan’s Doorway to Hell, so good in fact that a small village has erupted near the pit. Darvaza is now home to about 350 inhabitants, who live a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the region and often set up their home near the burning sinkhole. With all that gas being released into the air, let’s just hope they’ve got strong stomachs and a poor sense of smell.