Turkmenistan’s “Gates of Hell” – a massive, burning hole in the ground that became an unlikely tourist hotspot – is facing closure after five decades of wreaking environmental havoc.
The apocalyptic-looking crater is a deep pit of flaming gas and ash in the middle of the arid landscape of the Karakum desert.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the country’s president, appeared on state television on Saturday ordering the government to “find a solution to extinguish the fire” which “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby.”
He said: “We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people.”
The 60m wide and 20m deep crater was first formed in 1971 when a Soviet drilling operation went wrong, and it was deliberately set alight some time afterwards to prevent a massive gas leak. It’s been burning ever since.
A road runs near the pit and yurts for visitors have been reportedly set up near the crater, but there appear to be few barriers.
No road signs to the pit exist, but tourists are brought there by guides who know the area. Back in 2014, tourism officials said they believe the area could be developed into a key draw for adventurous visitors.
PHOTO: Giles Clarke/Getty Images
In 2019 Berdymukhamedov, an authoritarian ruler who won the 2017 election with 97% of the vote, drove a rally car around the flaming crater, performing doughnuts.
Turkmenistan sits on top of the world’s fourth-largest known reserves of natural gas and the country’s economy is massively reliant on exporting it.
Moscow’s ambassador to the country announced in December that Russia had doubled the imports of natural gas from Turkmenistan, to 10 billion cubic metres in 2021.
China remains the country’s main gas buyer, with a 7,000 kilometre-long pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Shanghai.