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Turkmenistan's Burning Gates of Hell

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I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

The Gates of Hell

Dusk at the Burning Gates of Turkmenistan. For scale, look closely to see the people at the upper left edge of the crater.

Dusk at the Burning Gates of Turkmenistan. For scale, look closely to see the people at the upper left edge of the crater.

Map Showing Derweze, Turkmenistan

The Gates of Hell are near Derweze, Turkmenistan

The Gates of Hell are near Derweze, Turkmenistan

Where Are the Gates?

Every year since 2004 participants in the Mongol Rally journey from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 10,000 miles away. There is no set route; each team chooses their own way, much of it off-road. Those teams that take a Middle Eastern route pass through Turkmenistan, north of Iran and east of the Caspian Sea. Usually, they make a point to include a visit to the Gates of Hell.

On the pothole-ridden main north-south road that cuts through the middle of the Karakum desert, which covers 80% of Turkmenistan, lies the small village of Derweze. In the Turkmen language, “Derweze” means “The Gate,” but the village is also called Darvaza by the Russians who controlled the country when it was part of the Soviet Union.

The Gates Labeled "The Door To Hell" From Space

What Happened?

Back in 1971, Soviet geologists were drilling for gas about four miles northeast of Derweze when they punched into an enormous natural gas cavern. The ground collapsed, and the entire rig was swallowed up. It is unknown whether any lives were lost, but great plumes of poisonous methane gas filled the air. The geologists decided the safest thing to do would be to ignite the poisonous fumes, so they tossed a grenade into the crater and waited for it to burn itself out in a few days. It's been burning ever since in a crater 60 meters wide and 20 meters deep; the heat at the edge of the crater is intense. The locals have dubbed it the “Gates of Hell” and, at night, that's what it looks like-- or the pit of Mount Doom where Frodo said goodbye to his ring finger.

The 350 inhabitants of Derweze, Turkmen of the Teke tribe who still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, find themselves hosting one of Turkmenistan's few tourist attractions, drawing adventurers from all over the world. The whole area sits atop a natural gas field, and the locals sometimes entertain their visitors by tossing lit cigarettes on the ground creating bursts of flames. There are also two other similar craters in the area, but they aren't aflame because their gas pressure is weak and won't sustain burning.

Kurbanguly "The Patron" Shows Who's Boss

The Patron Dentist

Turkmenistan's President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov visited the flaming pit in 2010 and declared that it must be put out so as not to hinder the development of nearby gas fields. Turkmenistan, a nation of some 5.5 million people, reportedly has the fourth-largest natural gas deposits in the world and is eager to develop them. Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by profession and called “The Patron,” runs one of the world's most repressive regimes, but, despite his edict, the Gates of Hell continue to burn.

A Closer Look Inside the Gates of Hell

The Burning Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan at night. It has been burning since 1971. Taken April 20, 2010.

The Burning Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan at night. It has been burning since 1971. Taken April 20, 2010.

Descending Into the Gates of Hell

In 2013, Canadian explorer George Kourounis, after 18 months of preparation, became the first person to descend into the burning Gates of Hell (and live to tell about it). Partnering with National Geographic to determine if life could exist under such conditions (people have to shield their faces from the heat when approaching the edge) George descended in a fire suit equipped with its own air supply. The noise from the flames, he said, sounds like a jet engine. Samples taken from the bottom of the crater did in fact harbor bacteria surviving in the high temperatures there, showing that life, though primitive, may exist in harsher environments than previously thought.

Panning the Gates of Hell

© 2011 David Hunt

Comments

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 27, 2013:

Hi Mollie. I'm glad my article was of use. Hope you get a good grade!

Mollie on March 26, 2013:

I'm researching this for a school project. Thanks :)

BoogleBerry on February 28, 2013:

Seriously!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 06, 2013:

Thanks very much, Martie. Comments like yours are very welcome-- it's always great to hear praise like that.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on February 06, 2013:

Very interesting! How will I ever learn this if not for hubs like this. Thank you, unnamedharald!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on October 27, 2012:

Pavlo, what a great comment. Have you thought of making a hub about this? The sum of my knowledge about Turkmenistan is in this hub plus the fact that it is one of the countries on NATO's Northern supply/exit route for Afghanistan. Thanks!

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on October 27, 2012:

Somehow I missed this hub... Turkmenistan has probably the biggest gas reserves in ex-USSR countries after Russia. This is a country with many contradictions. It has a "hen wich lays golden eggs" and at the same time people in villages live a little bit better than in ancient time. (At least this is what was said to me by those who live there). Do you know that people in Turkmenistan do not pay for gas in their apartments? Electricity bills are around 6 usd /annually. But this is just one side of the coin. Corruption, bribes are a normal thing. Women have no right to get a driving licence, so they go to UAE to pass exams and to get the licence. Man has to pay just bribe 1000USD to pass driving exams and to get a license etc., etc.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 05, 2012:

I really appreciate your comment, mary615. Glad you enjoyed the read.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 05, 2012:

Very interesting Hub. This burning hole reminds me of a volcano in a way.

Enjoyable and informative read.

I voted it UP, etc.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 25, 2012:

Thanks, Old Albion. I think this is one case where the video is absolutely necessary to get the scale and the "feel" for it. Words alone can't do the Gates justice-- though the text is crucial to understanding what you see.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on June 25, 2012:

Hi UH. It's all been said above. Another interesting and exciting hub. Photographs and presentation are tip top.

Graham.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 17, 2012:

Ah, apparently you were looking for Mordor.

LTK on June 17, 2012:

this doesn't really even look like any kind of gateway to hell.... it's only 20 metres deep. it'd be a lot better if it just went straight down. just saying

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 06, 2012:

Hellen, thank you for reading and commenting. Guest comments are most welcome!

Hellen on June 05, 2012:

Caboodles! That's the first I've ever seen a burning hole...i think.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 13, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, rlbert00. I'm sure glad I wasn't on that rig when the earth opened up.

rlbert00 from USA on April 13, 2012:

I think this place is absolutely fascinating, I was considering using it for one of my "where in the world are you?" articles. I was not aware of the origins of it though and that makes it all the more interesting. Nicely done.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 09, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, ata1515. Apparently, it takes determination to get there, but looks like it would be worth it.

ata1515 from Buffalo, New York. on April 09, 2012:

Awesome hub. The gates look like an amazing site to see.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 09, 2012:

Thanks, phdast7. Yeah, I've just watched it chug quietly away on autopilot. It gets most of it hits from Google. I've tried to figure out whether I just happen to have the right combination of key words or what. Best I can figure, people are searching for the gates of hell. Hmmm. Anyway, I don't usually, as in ever, share my own stuff, but I wondered whether a little "advertising" would make a difference. Don't worry, I know it's only semi-kosher to share our own stuff, so I won't do it that often. And, yes, do please watch where you toss your grenade.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on April 08, 2012:

Simply unbelievable. Guess it goes to show we have to be careful where we toss a grenade....or where we drill/ Wow! And this was a "sleeper" HUB?? Great stuff. :)

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on April 08, 2012:

I thought I was being followed around by Ardie... What are math skills...?

Sondra from Neverland on April 08, 2012:

No doubt!!! You don't realize just how big it is at first. I mean, you can tell by the listed dimensions in the Hub that its huge - but for people with no math skills like yours truly ;) the tiny people just drive it home.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 08, 2012:

Hey, hubby, we're going to hell? Thanks, Ardie. What blew me away was the teeny, tiny people around the edge of the crater in the images/video.

Sondra from Neverland on April 08, 2012:

Hey!! I have been following Thomas around on these Hubs about this topic - the Door to Hell. Im telling you what - I know where Im going for next year's vacation and Im making sure the hubby goes too ;)

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 08, 2012:

Hey, thanks for commenting, ThoughtSandwiches. Since I wrote this last year, it has quietly become one of my most-visited hubs-- mostly from non-hubland I believe. It's just one of those sleepers.

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on April 08, 2012:

UnnamedHarald,

This is the SECOND hub about this subject I have seen today! This place is amazing! I have to say...they got their money's worth out of that hand grenade...it's been burning for 41 years! Great Job!

Thomas

PS...Hitting all the Up buttons!

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 24, 2012:

Ok tha nks...

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 24, 2012:

Debbie- No, I did all my investigation from my couch, though I wish I had actually been there. Turkmenistan is east of Turkey on the other side of the Caspian Sea. I fixed the map so you can click it and make it larger.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 23, 2012:

You were there? Is this part of Turkey? I tried to look at the map you have up there, it looks like part of turkey..

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 23, 2012:

Hey, thanks for the comment, Debbie. I appreciate the vote-up. When I saw a weird picture of tourists standing near a burning hole I had to investigate and it turned into a hub.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 23, 2012:

Wow very interesting..we use to live in turkey...great hub...voted up..debbie