Day 79 (2): Camping at the gates of hell
Darvaza Travel Blog› entry 113 of 260 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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 :-)