Today I’m bringing you a guest post on the Secrets of Central Asia, by my fellow travel blogger Simon Proudman. Simon’s passion lies with far flung places, so that’s what he named his blog; Far Flung Places!
Simon has recently published the second edition of his travel guide to Turkmenistan, and in less than a week it has become the best selling guide to the country! Click here to get the low down on the latest Far Flung Places guide to Turkmenistan!
A bright orange light is the only visible sight for tens of kilometres around. As we get closer what looks like a volcanic crater has erupted out of the desert. A massive hole in the sand that burns day and night in the desert. Welcome to Darvaza in the middle of the Kara Kum desert in Turkmenistan.
This was 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, luckily no lives were lost. The gas was expected to burn out within days, yet it is still burning brightly today. The crater has a diameter of 70 meters (230 ft) and a depth of 25 meters (70ft).
As the sun went down 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 the flames could be seen leaping above it. The drivers erected tents on the side of a hill south of the crater. This meant we had no pungent gas and sulphur smells wafting over us. Barbequed chicken, tomatoes, bread (Russian black loaves), grapes, and copious amounts of vodka were consumed as we watched the show in front of us.
From 500 meters away there was no noise, and all around was silent. We watched the glowing fire of the crater against the black of the desert, while shooting stars streaked across the sky.
Gone midnight, it was time to actually go down to the crater…
The heat coming from the crater was intense. I could feel my face burning as if under hot sun. The smell, not surprisingly, was pure gas. It was like being in front of a stove with all four rings on, but not ignited. I wandered close to the edge, but not too close, as the earth was crumbling and burnt at the edges. There was a metal rope around the crater at one point, but this has now collapsed.
Many fires were burning in the crater, and flames leapt from spot to spot, flaring as they moved, sometimes jumping to the very edge of the crater. The noise was unrelenting, a constant roaring.
I stayed there until the early hours of the morning, taking advantage of the heat. Despite 40C temperatures in daylight, the thermometer dropped to low single figures at night.
It was, and is, an incredible experience. But it may not last much longer. Already drilling rigs are encroaching on the site to tap the abundant gas, slightly weakening the flames in the process. The president stopped by recently and was not impressed. He saw it as a waste of Turkmenistan’s natural resources and ordered it put out, using helicopters to drop earth and water.
Things take time in Turkmenistan, and decisions can be changed. Let’s hope he changes his mind, as this may well be the best tourist attraction in the country.