After a day driving though the desert we reached an area called Darvaza and camped next to all the machinery being used to build a new, and hopefully less pothole-ridden, road between Ashgabat and the border with Uzbekistan.
We set up camp and after sharing drinks with the construction workers were invited to jump in the back of one of the dump trucks to go and investigate the orange glow on the horizon. After a bumpy ride over a couple of sandy hills we rounded a corner and saw what Hell might look like. There was an enormous crater in the ground, the bottom of which was covered in vents of flame which occasionally flared up. The workers told us the crater is known as “The Door to Hell”…
Standing at the edge it’s about 70 metres across, and up to 5m deep, with constantly moving fires burning in various spots.
In the morning we drove out into the desert again, past bubbles of boiling mud and orange flames. This whole area is on top of a natural gas field, which is leaking through to the surface. The locals helpfully run around throwing cigarettes, creating bursts of flames, all of which looks rather stunning.
UPDATE: We later visited Gobustan in Azerbaijan for more burning earth goodness.