January 9, 2024 | Sammy Tran

The Doorway to Hell


The Doorway to Hell

Gas craterForbes

In the middle of the Karakum Desert, near the village of Darvaza, Turkmenistan lies a giant burning hole known affectionally as, The Doorway to Hell.

The fiery hole has been burning continuously since the 1980s. How the crater formed is unknown, but how the fire started is intriguing.

Even more intriguing is the daring adventurer that made the descend down inside the burning inferno, and what he discovered at the bottom.

This article dives deep into the Doorway to Hell, uncovering the details of this fascinating and dangerous desert tourist attraction.

Where is it?

Gas crater on mapDrishti

The Doorway to Hell is technically called the Darvaza Gas Crater, but it can also be known as the Doorway to Hell, the Gates of Hell, or the Shining of Karakum.

It is a gas crater located in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 160 miles north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.

What is it?

Gas craterForbes

The giant burning hole is a gas crater. It’s uncertain how the crater was formed.

The most common belief is that the site was drilled by Soviet engineers in 1971 as an oil field, but unintentionally collapsed within days of construction, exposing a methane-choked cave. The Soviet geologists decided to burn off the gas and it has been burning ever since.

The crater has a diameter of 200-300 feet, and a depth of about 98 feet. It is filled with flaming fire.

How Did the Fire Start?

Gas craterThe Travel

The fire inside the Doorway to Hell was actually ignited on purpose by geologists in an attempt to prevent poisonous gases from spreading. Some say they greatly underestimated the volume of gas inside the crater at the time.

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Controlling the Burn

Gas craterForbes

In Spring of 2010, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow suggested that measures be taken to control the burn and limit the crater’s influence on the development of other natural gas craters in the area. But nothing came of it.

In 2022, Berdimuhamedow officially announced plans to extinguish the crater entirely stating that it has affected the environment and local health long enough. Despite his intentions, the crater continues to burn today.

Daring Exploration

Gas crater explorationGeorge Verschoor/National Geographic Channels

Believe it or not, the Doorway to Hell captured the attention of an Extreme Explorer who wanted to attempt going down inside the flaming crater.

In 2013, George Kourounis became the first person to actually step foot on the bottom of the crater. He was gathering soil samples for the Extreme Micobiome Project.

This dangerous explorative event was sponsored by National Geographic and was even featured in an episode of the National Geographic Channel series Die Trying.

The Descend

George K.George Verschoor/National Geographic Channels

Kourounis, a Canadian Extreme Adventurer, wore a full body aluminized suit with a custom-made Kevlar harness attached to multiple Technora ropes. He also had a self-contained breathing apparatus.

He was slowly lowered down into the extremely hot, burning crater.

Although, Kourounis has had many memorable extreme experiences—chasing tornados, swimming with piranhas, climbing erupting volcanoes—he said this one was the only experience he’s had where he “felt a bit like a baked potato.”

Apparently, the actual descent wasn’t the most challenging part of the adventure. Turkmenistan is one of the most closed countries in the world, which made getting permission to enter the country almost impossible. It took the crew over 2 years to finally be allowed to enter.

The Purpose of the Mission

Gas craterNational Geographic

The whole reason for Kourounis going down inside the crater was to collect a sample of the matter down below. Particularly the soil, which is more of a burnt sand.

There have been planets outside of our solar system discovered to have had a very hot, methane-rich environment similar to what was in the crater. According to Kourounis, they “were looking for alien life right here on Earth.”

Soil samples did, in fact, find bacteria that was thriving deep in one of Earth’s most inhospitable places, proving that life is possible in similar settings.

What does it Look Like?

gas craterThe Travel

According to Kourounis, the Doorway to Hell is “burning with a tremendous amount of flame like there is a lot of fire down there…Day or night, it is clearly burning.”

He also said you can hear the roar of the fire if you stand at the edge. And that, “he heat, if you are downwind of it, is unbearable. There are thousands of little flames all around the edges and towards the center.

He claims there are two large flames in the middle at the bottom where the drilling rig hole was for the natural gas extraction.

Tourism

Camping beside gas craterForbes

The Doorway to Hell is a fascinating scene that enthralls people all over the globe. However, its remote location in one of the most difficult countries to get into poses a bit of a challenge for tourists.

Tourism is available at the Doorway to Hell, but travelers must first be granted a visa and a letter of invitation in order to get into the country.

For those who make it happen, and citizens of the country, a visit to the Doorway to Hell is a memorable experience. Most guided tours include overnight camping near the crater so you can experience a spectacular night show.

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Tourism Safety

Doorway to hellNational Geographic

It is highly suggested that you take extreme precaution when visiting the crater as there are minimal safety measures in place.

The crater is completely open with only a short, basic wooden fence protecting you from falling into the Doorway to Hell. And most people don't stay behind the fence.

Final Thoughts

Gas CraterForbes

The Doorway to Hell, and its fiery glow can be seen for miles. Situated in the remote desert, its location only adds to its allure.

Despite its sinister name and dangerous size, the Doorway to Hell still attracts tourists willing to trek far into the desert for the flaming experience.

Burning for half a century already, scientists are unsure just how long it will continue to burn.

Another cool spot to add to your bucket list, maybe?