Day 79 (2): Camping at the gates of hell

Darvaza Travel Blog

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Into the Karakum desert

Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Arthur (Germany)

The Karakum is the hottest desert in Central Asia and is in fact what I would call a classic desert: sand, sand, nothing but sand. Well, and some bushes, in fact, the recent rains had resulted in the desert being particularly green. Unlike the Gobi desert in Mongolia, or more recently the Dasht-e Lut in Iran, the Karakum is in fact quite boring. There is some undulation but for the most part it is a flat landscape of sand and shrubs, cleaved in two by the black ribbon of tarmac that is the Karakum highway.

The town of Darvaza does not exist anymore. It used to be a stopover point halfway the Karakum Highway between Ashgabat and Konye-Urgench.

First view of the crater
When former president Niyazov visited the town  he didn't like it and ordered it to be razed to the ground, displacing the inhabitants to other parts of the country.

The name is still attached to one of Turkmenistan's most unusual attractions though, the Darvaza Gas Craters. Back in the 1970s the Soviets were exploring the many gas fields in the country. Near Darvaza something went wrong and several gas bubbles collapsed, leaving a crater which releases  natural gas. Two of the craters are filled with water and mud, while a third one has been set alight in order to contain the escaping gas. 60 years later the crater is still burning.

It's this third one which is the main attraction of course, especially after dark when the glow of the fire can be seen for many miles.

Arthur and I walked around the crater several times, during daylight, dusk and night time.
Worshipping the mighty fire gods
There wasn't much else to do after all. But the crater doesn't bore. Maybe it's a boy's thing, but I have always been fascinated by fire. Occasionally the wind would change and blow the hot air coming from the crater in our direction. In case you're wondering: it's hot. Very hot!

Our driver prepared some very tasty kebabs over a camp-fire, which we washed down with some luke-warm beers. It was a perfect night out in the desert. The temperature was actually very comfortable (as it had been throughout most of the day, in fact - quite a difference from Iran) and in the middle of the night it even got cold - I needed my sleeping bag for the first time this trip.

The next morning we got up at sunrise and after a quick breakfast we set out again. We left Arthur by the roadside and the driver and I continued onwards to the north.
At the crater
Arthur's visa doesn't allow him to travel in any of the border regions, so for him there was little choice but to hitch a ride back to Ashgabat. There are plenty of cars crossing the Karakum, so this wasn't so difficult.

In fact, it is not impossible to visit the crater on your own. Having your own set of wheels is of course preferable, if you have a 4WD you should be able to find the turn-off point and follow the track to the crater. But even without a car, you can be dropped off at the old village of Darvaza and walk from there (about 2 hrs). And on the way back there are plenty of cars and trucks heading in either direction, happy to make an extra buck. Still, I was happy to have my own car and driver :-)

Polh says:
nice article but if it happend in the 70ies how can it be still burning 60 years later ? Let's say it happend in 1970 then it's burning for 45 years
Posted on: Oct 07, 2015
Ape says:
Incredible!
Posted on: Jan 04, 2011
dukeBG says:
"Through a crack in Mother Earth,
Blazing hot, the molten rock
Spills out over the land.
And the lava's the lover who licks your boots away. Hey! Hey! Hey!
If you don't want to boil as well.
B-B-Better start the dance
D-D-Do you want to dance with me."
Posted on: Aug 09, 2010
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Into the Karakum desert
Into the Karakum desert
First view of the crater
First view of the crater
Worshipping the mighty fire gods
Worshipping the mighty fire gods
At the crater
At the crater
Into the Karakum desert
Into the Karakum desert
Into the Karakum desert
Into the Karakum desert
The Karakum highway
The Karakum highway
One of the inhabitants of the Kara…
One of the inhabitants of the Kar…
Into the Karakum desert
Into the Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Camels in a little village where s…
Camels in a little village where …
Some kids in a little village on t…
Some kids in a little village on …
A lone yurt standing in the desert
A lone yurt standing in the desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
The track up to the crater
The track up to the crater
Another critter that lives in the …
Another critter that lives in the…
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
Karakum desert
To give an idea of the size of the…
To give an idea of the size of th…
The crater
The crater
The crater
The crater
Peeking into the crater
Peeking into the crater
Arthur and me at the crater
Arthur and me at the crater
Darvaza crater
Darvaza crater
Darvaza crater
Darvaza crater
Looks even more apocalyptic in bla…
Looks even more apocalyptic in bl…
Having dinner
Having dinner
Beautiful skies after sunset
Beautiful skies after sunset
The crater at night
The crater at night
Gecko we encountered at night
Gecko we encountered at night
Waking up the next morning
Waking up the next morning
Another lovely desert critter
Another lovely desert critter
a little movie of me at the crate…
Darvaza
photo by: Biedjee