The world is a dynamic environment home to a trillion species. Full of beautiful landscapes pre-dating humans, impressive engineering feats that wouldn’t exist without us, and of course, the in-between. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Places.
Close your eyes and imagine what the door to Hell would actually look like.
Do you see a vast barren desert, in the middle of it all a large crater raging with fire and boiling mud?
If not, you may need to work on your imagination, because that’s precisely what the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert — also known as the “Door to Hell” — looks like.
It’s one of a three-crater man-made cluster, but it’s the only one on fire. In fact, it’s still burning as I write this, after 40-plus years.
How did this happen, and why is this place so damn awesome?
1. Nobody really knows how it was created
The narrative most often pedaled is that the crater was the result of a Soviet gas exploration gone wrong in the 70s. The Soviets thought they had found a rich oil reserve and began drilling, only to instead discover a substantial natural gas pocket. This quickly took their pride and equipment in one fell swoop, causing the crater.
They then set it ablaze, hoping the exposed methane would burn off over a couple weeks and the problem would be solved. Simple, right? Only one issue proved that decision wrong: Turkmenistan has the 6th largest natural gas reserves in the world.
But was it really the Soviets?
According to a National Geographic piece from 2014, explorer George Kourounis said Turkmen geologists he spoke to say the collapse could have taken place in the ‘60s, and gone as long as the ‘80s before being set on fire. With no records to verify what the hell happened, the mystery continues, but as far as I’m concerned, the Soviet story is more plausible, so let’s keep blaming them.
2. It’s provided some interesting scientific insights
Speaking of that NatGeo piece, George Kourounis is quite the badass himself. Such a badass that he’s the first person to actually jump into the crater, albeit, with a fireproof suit and Kevlar harness.
Kourounis’ expedition wasn’t all balls and glory, though—it was also to collect soil samples inside the crater to determine whether life could survive in similar environments across the universe. Some microbial life forms were found in the crater, but more importantly, these same life forms were not found outside the crater, meaning any methane-rich environment in space could host life.
3. It’s Not a Commercial Tourism Nightmare
It’s a sad but accepted reality that anything collectively agreed upon as interesting on this planet will soon enough become a nightmare tourist attraction filled with overpriced souvenirs, shitty food, concrete, minimal parking, and an overall cattle-herding experience.
The Darvaza Gas Crater, while certainly a tourist attraction, doesn’t have an overpriced souvenir shop, over-zealous parking attendants, or cookie-cutter restaurant. It doesn’t even have a parking lot. To get there you need a devoted set of legs or a 4×4 vehicle to get through the sand. However, guided tours are the bulk mode of visitation for many tourists.
In case you can’t immediately make the trek to Darvaza Gas Crater, you can vicariously live through this quick clip below of the crater at night.
Read about more badass men, women, places, and moments in time, all a part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.