About 40 years ago, 300 odd kilometers north of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan some noxtious gases were seeping out of the ground at a drilling site. It was decided to burn off the gases and so they were lit. The ground collapsed, the rig fell into the hole, and the fire has been burning ever since. It's quite a sight, and tourists have been going to have a look ever since. Now apparently the Turkmen authorities don't like tourists, and I imagine the whole episode was a bit of an embarrassment, so they took the logical step and raised the local village, Darvaza, to the ground (leaving the bread oven standing due to religious reverance) to desaude visitors. It is against this backdrop that Kai and I left Ashgabat yesterday afternoon and headed north.
Driving 300km through desert is a thirsty business and by the time we got to what I assume had once been Darvaza, complete with lone bread oven and a handy wall to hide the car behind, we'd already drunk about half of the water we had with us. We also hadn't seen a petrol station since just outside Ashgabat.
Just before Darvaza, suspiciously close infact, had been a police check point. This panicked us a bit, hence the hiding of the car, and we decided to wait until dark and then walk the last three miles through the desert to the "hell mouth". Not quite as crazy as it sounds as Kai had already put the coordinates into his GPS device.
Walking through the desert was a little spooky. Kai claims he saw a snake, but it could have just been a moving stick Gradually in the distance we started to see a slight glow on the horizon, and after climbing yet anouther ridge we saw... the moon. But all was not lost, there was definitely something else glowing out there. After a total of about an hour and a half we did eventually reach the great fire pit. It was nice, very peaceful and we scaled an overlooking hill and sat for a while.
While it was nice to see, and walking through the desert was an experience, I'm not sure I'd recommend it, or at least not the way that we did it. There is apparently a track that leads to it if you can find it, or you can try to find a guide, and you can camp nearby. As we returned and were getting close to the car we heard a motorbike behind us, which by the time we got to the car had caught up with is, and at just the same, as if on schedule, two other motorbikes drew up, from opposite directions. The riders seemed to want to take us on a tour of the flame pit. We tried to explain that we'd already been. They stayed and chatted and gave us some chewing tobbacco, which was a bit strong, and asked for gifts. Luckily we had some cigarettes and a pen and they left eventually.