Turkmenistan President orders closure of Gateway to Hell: Everything to know about the tourist attraction near Darvaza

What is Gateway to Hell and why is it being closed? Financial Express Online has explained everything you need to know.

Notably, this is not the first time that such orders have been made. (Image: AP via IE)

Turkmenistan Gateway to Hell: Turkmenistan’s famous ‘Gateway to Hell’ is set to be closed. The development has come based on the order issued by the country’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Gateway to Hell is actually the Darvaza gas crater, and it is also called by names like ‘Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates to Hell’. It is located near Darvaza, Turkmenistan, and it is a popular tourist attraction in the country. But what is Gateway to Hell and why is it being closed? Financial Express Online has explained everything you need to know.

Gateway to Hell: What exactly is it?

Gateway to Hell is a natural gas crater located near Darvaza in Turkmenistan. It used to be a natural gas field which then collapsed into a cave and became a crater. But what is interesting about a caved-in natural gas field? Well, this one is burning. And has been burning for decades.

The crater is situated amid the Karakum Desert. It is said that this region has one of the largest gas reserves in the world and the crater itself has a diameter of about 70 metres. With a depth of 30 metres, the crater covers a total area of 5,350 metre square. It was dubbed as ‘Door to Hell’ by Turkmenis because of the massive fire and the orange flames that cover its surface.

Turkmenistan Darvaza Gas Crater: History

This is where things get a little murky, because there are no accurate records about how the Gateway of Hell came into existence.

It was widely believed that it was a drilling operation of the Soviet engineers that went wrong and caused it to form. As per this, Soviet engineers discovered the site in 1971 and believed it to be an oil field. Consequently, a drilling rig was supposedly set up by the engineers in a bid to assess the amount of oil that would be present at the site. However, the survey came back showing that this was a natural gas field, and soon after this revelation, the drilling rig as well as the camp caved in, forming the crater. Thankfully, there were no casualties in this collapse, but the rig was buried. The engineers then supposedly feared that poisonous gases would be released into nearby areas and, therefore decided to burn the gases off in the hopes that it would burn out in some weeks. However, if this supposition is in fact what happened, then the fire has been raging for a good five decades now, and it is expected to continue to burn.

However, some local geologists also believe that the crater was actually formed after a collapse in the 1960s and in this scenario, the fire was not set into existence until the 1980s.

No records of either of these versions are available, and in 2013, Canadian explorer George Kourounis, who came to examine the depth of the crater, found that no one actually knew accurately how Gateway to Hell was actually formed.

Gateway to Hell: Tourist attraction

For years now, Gateway to Hell has been a loved tourist destination in the Central Asian country. If the raging pit of fire is not sufficient, the fact that it is surrounded by a huge desert ideal for camping is definitely a bonus. Besides, the campfire is right there! Seriously speaking, though, I hope no one goes too close to the mouth of the crater. The pit is very lightly fenced and people who love extreme sports can actually stand close to the edge, but the soil is sandy and can crumble under their feet. However, this is one of the reasons for some adventure and extreme sports lovers to go to the spot.

Nonetheless, apart from people who love camping, many are also fascinated by the Gateway of Hell as a tourist attraction because it is breathtaking, and many have said that it puts their life into perspective. Since popular fiction’s depiction of hell is pretty close to what the Gateway of Hell crater looks like, many people feel like remembering their sins and repenting their actions due to the notion that they might end up in a similar-looking hell after life.

The mystery around its creation is also a reason that many tourists wish to go and see the spot. However, despite being an attractive tourist destination in the country, in absolute numbers only a few people have seen it since Turkmenistan is still largely an isolated country compared to the rest of the world and a few years ago, the country was trying to pitch itself as an ideal tourism destination, with the Darvaza gas crater also being a part of the destinations that the authorities wished to promote – to travellers and researchers alike.

So why is Gateway to Hell being closed?

Considering the fact that a few years ago the Turkmen government was trying to promote Gateway to Hell as a tourism spot, it might seem a bit absurd that the President ordered the closure of the burning gas pit. But it’s not exactly unfounded. Many tourists, while admiring the crater in awe, have also expressed their perplexity at the fact that the country continued to waste natural gas to keep the crater burning.

One of the reasons that the Turkmenistan President gave for the order to close the Gateway to Hell is the concern for the environment and health of the people in nearby areas.

But another reason is that the country is wasting significant amounts of natural gas resources in keeping the crater burning. It is possible that the country had kept the crater burning for so long in hopes of making up for some of the losses in terms of gas by the tourism it would attract. However, despite several attempts to popularise tourism, the country still remains mainly isolated and is not a highly preferred tourist destination.

This could be the reason that pushed the country to instead use the natural gas reserve – one of the largest in the world, no less – and export it to increase revenue. Accordingly, the officials have been asked to find a way to extinguish the fire in Gateway to Hell.

Notably, this is not the first time that such orders have been made. Previously also, attempts have been made to close the burning crater, including in 2010 on President Berdymukhamedov’s order. These attempts, though, did not yield positive results. Therefore, it is left to see if this time, the Gateway to Hell will be closed after all, or whether the attempts would still be unfruitful.

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