November 20, 2020
Expecting a simple airport, I walked into a swanky white marble terminal with what looked suspiciously like a solid gold ceiling. After many years of dreaming and planning, I had set foot in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
Landing at any airport is usually followed by the obligatory “landed safely” messages to family and friends but things were different here in Turkmenistan. None and I mean NONE of my apps/emails worked in this country. This country surely knew the growing need for a digital detox.
“Why are you in our country?”, asked the immigration officer. “Darvaza”, I reply timidly, and he gives me a dismissive nod.
Darvaza, also known as the Door To Hell, was the sole reason behind this trip. And I only had 24 hours to see it and catch the next flight home before my visa expired.
A slight drizzle, chilly weather and my guide awaited me outside the airport. Soon we were on our way to this famed location which to this day represents a mark of shame for the people of Turkmenistan.
What is Darvaza?
The Darvaza gas crater, also known as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, is a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Soviet geologists may have intentionally set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it is thought to have been burning continuously since 1971. - Wikipedia
In 1971, close to a small Turkmen village deep within Karakum desert, a Soviet drilling rig accidentally drilled into a massive gas pocket, causing the ground around it to collapse and the rig to fall in. A huge hole was created and the poisonous gas started escaping at an alarming rate. So the Soviets decided to set the hole on fire in the hope that the gas will burn itself out in a weeks time. 50 years later, it is still burning.
A tourist stumbled upon this site and called it the Door To Hell, as the fiery glow can be seen from miles away and resembles the literary description of hell.
After a long 4-hour drive through nothing but barren desert, I was finally in the depths of Karakum.
My heart began to pound again as a giant red hot fiery pit loomed in front of me, inviting me to its warmth, like a moth to a flame.
Not a soul in sight, my trip to the door to hell, ironically, turned out to be a spiritual experience for me. It felt like the earth had opened up, bearing its soul to me. The silence, the blazing fire and the cold desert wind invoked all my senses and my mind remained rooted in the present moment and it stood there for the next couple of hours.
The time I spent at Darvaza will be etched in my memory for life. After all, aren’t we all traveling the world in search of such moments?
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