Just over fifty years later and here we are! The “Gates of Hell” (or “Door to Hell”) is one of Turkmenistan’s major tourist attractions and the flames feeding on methane leaking from a large gas field deep beneath the crater show no signs of er, flaming out. Good news for tour operators and local provisions providers, not so good for the planet at large. Turkmenistan is already one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses (mainly due to natural methane seepage) and the existence of an enormous open-air furnace doesn’t exactly help the situation. (image via sunriseOdyssey)
* Turkmenistan Trivia: In 1993 the first president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, granted each citizen a free monthly allowance of 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic metres of gas, plus 250 liters of water per day. OH! The country’s second (and current) president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, revoked these subsidies in late 2018. DOH!
All along, things were going just swimmingly at the Gates of Hell. The government erected a protective fence around the pit’s circumference, and the surrounding plain is dotted with tourists’ tents. Since temperatures in this region often drop precipitously at night, visitors can retreat to heated yurts after viewing the hissing, smoking crater up close and personal-like. (image via Kalpak Travel)
* Turkmenistan Trivia: Any color you want, as long as it’s… white? Turkmenistan banned the importation of black-painted cars in 2015. In early 2018 they expanded the ban by making it illegal to drive cars that were not painted white. The stated reason was that white is a lucky color. Meanwhile, those who already owned white cars were lucky they didn’t have to repaint them.
Satan, You’re Fired!
Now it seems the party’s over. After having taken the time and trouble to install the aforementioned amenities, it appears that Turkmenistan’s government (aka, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov) has reversed course and the Gates of Hell’s days as a tourist attraction, at the very least, could be numbered – and we don’t mean “666”. (image via Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn))
* Turkmenistan Trivia: President Berdymukhamedov is no stranger to the Darvaza Gas Crater. In August of 2019, state television broadcast him doing “donuts” in a modified rally car just outside the crater – coming perilously close to the rim more than once. Lucky for him he was driving a WHITE rally car.
Hell Freezes Over?
On January 8th of 2022, President Berdymukhamedov appeared on state television to announce he was ordering the Gates of Hell to be closed and the fires within extinguished. He explained that the continual combustion “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby,” which sounds perfectly reasonable. He went on to say, however, that “we are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people.” So, fill in the sinkhole and put a new drilling rig on top? Sounds like a plan! (image via Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn))
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