15 February 2013

The Story Behind The Photo: "Door to Hell" -- The Darvaza Gas Crater

"Door to Hell" -- The Darvaza Gas Crater
© Ryan Goebel, 2010

"The Story Behind The Photo" will be a recurring theme here at Global Goebel Travels, where I choose one of my favorite travel photos and tell the story behind shooting it.

One of the most popular photos over at my Flickr site, is "Door to Hell" -- The Darvaza Gas Crater.  I took this photo on a trip to Turkmenistan in May 2010.

The Darvaza Gas Crater is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkmenistan and probably one of the most bizarre attractions in the world.  This huge burning crater, often referred to by locals as the "The Door To Hell", is located in the middle of the Karakum desert about 260km (160 miles) north of Ashgabat.

Reports vary as to when and how this huge burning crater was created, but most say that it happened in the early 1970's when a rig drilling for gas hit a giant underground gas-filled cavern which then collapsed.  The gas was then purposely ignited to burn it off rather than let it escape to the atmosphere.  Some reports claim that this incident happened as early as the 1960's or 1970's.

Interestingly enough, there is a similar "mud crater" and "water crater" in the area also supposedly caused by industrial accidents.  This makes me question whether the Darvaza gas crater was really created by a drilling accident.  The fact that they all were made in the Soviet era means that the actual truth behind these craters will probably never be known.

There's nothing like standing next to this crater at night, feeling the warmth of the fire in the cold desert night, and starting at the flames like it's the world's largest campfire.  Occasionally throughout the night, you can see streaks of light over the crater.  This is actually the flames reflecting off the bottom of birds as they swoop in the eat insects that are attracted to the light of the fire.

In recent years, there have been rumors circulating that the Turkmenistan government has been searching for a company with the expertise to seal off the crater.  I guess they figure that if there's been enough natural gas there to burn constantly for 40+ years, then maybe they should try to contain it so that it could be added to the country's already huge natural gas reserves.

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To take this photo, I scrambled up a nearby hill (not so easy after consuming a few too many Baltika beers) so that I could get closer to an overhead perspective looking down into the crater as best as I could while still fitting the entire width of the crater into the frame.  The rest of my group was still gathered around the crater's rim, and I think this really adds to the photo by giving it some scale.

Camera:          Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens:               Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
Aperture:          f/4.0
Focal Length:  105mm
ISO Speed:      3200

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To see more of my photos from Turkmenistan, click here.

The Giant Plunger Nelly Would Be Proud of This Gold-Toothed Grin Winching the Camel Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Greatest Leader of Them All? Gold Teeth and a Lenin Bust Arch of Neutrality and the Earthquake Monument Hippodrome Gypjak Mosque - The largest in Central Asia
All photos are © Ryan Goebel, 2010

I booked my trip to Turkmenistan through Koryo Tours, who are more well know for their North Korean trips but happen to also offer 1-2 trips per year to Turkmenistan.

Have you ever been to Turkmenistan?  What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments section below.

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