It was a long and hot drive from Ashgabat before we arrived at the first crater near Darvaza, roughly halfway the capital city and the north of the country. This one is filled with water, the edges are crumbling and you have to thread with care. The water in the crater is rain water, and it gives the impression of a small lake. We walked around it, and continued to a second crater. This one was different: it had mud in it, which seemed to be boiling. We stood and listened to the fat sound of exploding of the air bubbles when they reached the surface. But we knew that the most spectacular crater of the area still had to come. It just took us another short drive to reach it. On our way there, on a sandy road branching off the highway, we saw two motorcyclists struggling with a stretch of deep sand. A second look told us that they were compatriots, and we stopped, got out, and asked them in our mother tongue if they needed a hand. After struggling for more than half an hour to get their bikes out of this difficult situation, in a scarcely populated area, their faces were more than a little surprised! They decided to return and walk to the crater, while we drove their right away and reached it just before sunset. Wehn we got out of the car, we directly realized this was a wholly different piece of cake. A constant, low sound of threatening fire was coming from the opening in the earth when we approached. We could feel the temperature rising, and the anticipation of what was coming, made our heart beat faster. Then, as we were finally able to look into the abyss, we were marveled and shocked at the same time. Huge flames were blazing all over the floor of the crater, reaching up into the sky, seemingly trying to lick it from below, at scores of different places at the same time. Sometimes, the wind would blow waves of heat towards us that were impossible to withstand. Yet, our eyes remained fixed on this monstrous spectacle.
After walking around this crater, we first went to our camp for the night where our infallible driver had cooked us another fine dinner. But we were restless, and wanted to go back to the crater in the dark of the night. First, though, a surprise visitor showed up out of nowhere, and abducted our guide who disappeared giggling and in high spirits. We would not see her again until the next morning. Then, we found our way to the crater - easy enough, as by now, an orange glow was coming up from the earth. The sight now was much more spectacular than before, as the contrast with the darkness in which we were surrounded could not be higher. The heat was the same; fortunately, the wind had died down a little and was less unpredictable than before, so we chose a corner of the crater where the wind would not disturb us. We managed to crawl up to the very edge of the huge opening in the earth, where we stayed for a long time to enjoy the spectacle of the constantly moving flames, which diminished and grew in size constantly. I imagined the edge to be safe: with the fires below, I thought it would have been baked to a very solid ground on which to walk.
In the distance, we saw two lights approaching, and already imagined it were the guys we had helped out of the sands. They had walked from the highway to the crater using their GPS, while the last part, the crater had guided them on its own. After a nice talk and a few drinks, they started their long walk back in the middle of the night, while we stayed longer. The show was not over yet. The show would never be over - unless the rumours were true, that the Turkmen president had decided that this fire should be extinguished. After all, it was never started in a natural way to begin with. The Russians had found gas in this area, and apparently, a tower had accidentally fallen into it, and ignited the fire which has been blazing since the 1950s. In a way, the eternal flames of this gas crater only underlined the richness of the country - they could afford to burn resources that are valuable in other places of the world. Finding our way back to the tent was a little more difficult - but we could not stop looking back at the monstrous scene we had just seen. We had put our tent such that we could watch the glow of the crater from our beds - and so we did.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Darvaza gas crater (Turkmenistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Darvaza gas crater. Read more about this site.