Door to Hell Exists.!!

Tripoto
8th Oct 2017
Photo of Door to Hell Exists.!! by Mrugank Vaidya

Working in an engineering field has its own perks. I was assigned on a project which was located in Turkmenbashi, country Turkmenistan. Well Turkmenistan is not Turkey. It is different country which shares its border with Afghanistan & Iran on the South, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on the North and Caspian Sea on the west. This country is rich in natural gas and one of the tourist attractions is Daravaza Crater.

The Darvaza crater is a hidden place which is yet to be explored and almost no one is much aware about it. It is around 260 kms from Ashgabat (capital of Turkmenistan) away, which is approximately a 4 hours’ drive.

Travelling to Darwaza:

It is not possible to travel this place on your own. You need to get a tour company to arrange the vehicles for this trip. The last stretch of the journey cannot be completed by the city cars as it is an off-road drive. A 4X4 drive is required to cover the last 5-6 kms (which is 20 mins drive).

We had approached one of the tour company and they said that the total cost for transportation will be USD 200/day/car that includes only to and fro cost.

USD 200 for just 4 hours drive seems to be a real rob from the expats as petrol is 1 mannat / litre and diesel is 1.5 mannat / litre. Mannat is the currency of Turkmenistan. Official exchange rate is 1$ = 3.5 Mannat; however we used to get mannat currency in black market from the locals where the exchange rate was 1$ = 15-16 Mannat.

We approached one of the office colleague and he informed that one of his friends arranged frequent trips to Darawaza. His friend asked for 800 mannat per car for the to and fro trip and we agreed.

This trip was planned in early October, 2017 when the temperature starts to drops and nights can become chilling in the open dessert. This country is also referred as the cold desert where the temperature in the night drops below 0⁰C with gusting winds.

The Journey

All 8 of us were working in Turkmenbashi, so we caught a flight Turkmenbashi to Ashgabat (60 mins flight) and started the road journey from Ashgabat at around 8 pm. We asked that office colleague to join us as well because it would be easy for us to communicate with the locals if required.

Ashgabat city is flooded with street lights and the city is very bright at night. As soon as you leave the city and approach the outskirts the street lights disappear and you need to rely on the car’s headlight to guide you. The country has almost negligible pollution and the skies are very clear most of the time. As soon as you get to the outskirts of the city, the night sky reveals its true image with millions of stars to admire. We traveled on the full moon night and hence we couldn’t grab the privilege to get this view.

The local drivers are fearless and will drive the car speeding at 80-100 kmph. We were caught for over speeding at one of the check post by the police. Well bribing works everywhere. A 5 mannat note was slipped into the hands of the police officer and we were free to go.

On the way, the driver halted at a location which happened to be an outskirt of one the village. We saw some lights and camp fire where a street vendor was selling tea, coffee and some snacks. The vendor greeted the driver and seemed like his close friend. Our colleague informed that the driver collects all barbeque materials and marinated chicken and lamb from this vendor always.

We collected all the stuff and started the journey again. After around 4.5 hours of road journey we reached an isolated house. Once we stepped out of the car we realized that it was cold and started shivering. The house owner and the driver were friends and here on wards we had to change into the off-road car to reach the final destination. An additional 250 Mannat was paid to the off-road driver for the to and fro journey.

It felt that the temperature was dropping every minute. We overloaded the off-road car (pickup truck) with almost 9 people on-board and started moving towards the Darvaza.

After 10 mins on the off-road car, we could see a bright light appearing at a distance and knew that we are very close to it.

I think I don’t need to explain how the Darvaza Crater looks like. The pictures will say it more.

Photo of Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza, Turkmenistan by Mrugank Vaidya

Well That's me.

Photo of Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza, Turkmenistan by Mrugank Vaidya
Photo of Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza, Turkmenistan by Mrugank Vaidya
Photo of Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza, Turkmenistan by Mrugank Vaidya

We reached at 11:30 PM and started the preparing barbeque. The bonfire and alcohol helped us tackle the cold temperature.

We could smell the un-burned gas at a particular spot near the crater. It is better to stay away from this spot as this gas is bit poisonous and may affect your health if exposed for a prolong duration.

We left at 5:00 AM in the morning from Door to Hell and started the return journey back to Ashgabat.

I would like to give some tips if you are travelling from India.

• The best and cheapest way to reach Turkmenistan is by Turkmenistan Airlines from New Delhi or via Dubai. The flights are weekly twice or thrice and keep changing frequently. There is no online booking facility for Turkmenistan Airlines. You need to go down to their office at the Airport to book the tickets or contact their office for booking over the telephone.

• Flights from Dubai are operated by Flydubai which are also available weekly twice or thrice.

• Visa is stamped on arrival. Visa application shall be done the tour company in Turkmenistan. The tour company shall provide you Letter of Invitation. Carry this letter of Invitation to the Visa office at the Airport and get the visa stamped on your passport.

• Visa charges are $ 119 excluding service charges of Tour Company.

Food:

The local food preferred is “plov”. That is meat with rice. You can easily find kebabs (shaslik), pide etc in restaurants. There are some restaurants that provide Biryani as well and I was quite surprise to see that.

Do try the Caesar salad which was one of the preferred salads during my stay.

Do and Don’t’:

• Taking photo of Government buildings is prohibited. They say that white buildings are Government buildings but to my surprise all building in Ashgabat are white buildings. The building hoisted with the national flags is government building. Avoid taking photos at the Airport.

• Never enter the car with a stranger. If you travel here thru a tours and travels make sure that no outsiders are allowed in the car.

• English speaking people are barely available. The tour and travel company employs translators which are your only source for communication with the locals.

• Relatively the crime rate is low here but it is always better to safe than sorry.

• People in Turkmenistan like Bollywood and Indians a lot. They have a huge respect for Indians.

• Sexual relationships with the locals shall put you in jail and fine of $5,000, if caught. Also there is chance of getting deported from the country.

• Lots of people will gather around you for taxi (if they seem you are lost) at the Airport. Politely reply them “Nyet. Spaciba” (No, thanks in Russian) and they will stop bothering you.

• The local network TM Cell will not support for International roaming except Airtel users are able to connect and access cellular network.

If anyone is planning to visit this place, do message me, I can help you with some people in Turkmenistan who can arrange this trip for you.

History of Darvaza Crater :

In 1971, when the Soviets were drilling for natural gas, they accidentally tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground underneath it collapsed and a huge crater was formed with approx. 70 mtrs. Diameter. The crater emitted poisonous gas and the Geologists proposed to burn it off. They expected that this fire will fuel up the gas within a matter of days; however the crater is still burning as on today.

Hence the locals termed this Darvaza crater as “Door to Hell”

Disclamer : The Author does not support and promote consumption of alcohol. Do not consider this post as an encouragement to consume alcohol.

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