Turkmenistan's Burning Gates of Hell

Updated on October 6, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

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. | Source

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. | Source

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 David Hunt

    Comments

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      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • profile image

        Mollie 

        5 years ago

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

      • profile image

        BoogleBerry 

        5 years ago

        Seriously!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        5 years ago from South Africa

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

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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 Badovskyy profile image

        Pavlo Badovskyi 

        5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

        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.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        6 years ago from Florida

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

        Enjoyable and informative read.

        I voted it UP, etc.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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.

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

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

        Graham.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Ah, apparently you were looking for Mordor.

      • profile image

        LTK 

        6 years ago

        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

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • profile image

        Hellen 

        6 years ago

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

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • rlbert00 profile image

        rlbert00 

        6 years ago from USA

        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.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

      • ata1515 profile image

        ata1515 

        6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

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

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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.

      • phdast7 profile image

        Theresa Ast 

        6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        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 profile image

        ThoughtSandwiches 

        6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

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

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        6 years ago from Neverland

        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.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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.

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        6 years ago from Neverland

        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 ;)

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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 profile image

        ThoughtSandwiches 

        6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

        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 profile image

        Deborah Brooks Langford 

        6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

        Ok tha nks...

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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 profile image

        Deborah Brooks Langford 

        6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

        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..

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        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 profile image

        Deborah Brooks Langford 

        6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

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

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