Hell’s gate?

With fiery embers glowing deep underground, it looks like a scene from an apocalyptic sci-fi blockbuster.

But this huge crater is amazingly a real-life phenomenon which has been flaming away for more than four decades.

The 230ft-wide crater, known by locals in Turkmenistan as the ‘Door to Hell’, has baffled scientists since it first appeared more than 40 years ago.

Originally a level surface, the site was identified by Soviet scientists in 1971 as an area that was believed to house a substantial oil field.

However, the ground beneath the drilling rig soon collapsed, creating a wide crater that was believed to be releasing large quantities of methane gas, a potential danger to the nearby villages in Derweze, Turkmenistan.

Scientists decided that the most efficient way to solve the problem would be to burn off the poisonous gases — by doing so, it was expected that all of the gas in the crater would be burnt off within days.

More than four decades later, though, the crater is still ablaze with endless flames and boiling mud – and hundreds of tourists flock to visit it every year.

The Karakum Desert, where Derweze is located, has one of the largest gas reserves in the world. Turkmenistan hopes to up its exportation rate around 75 million cubic meters of gas in the next 20 years.

Unaware of the Door to Hell’s existence before he visited Turkmenistan, Will, 57, was told on his tour that the crater was one of the hundred most bizarre places to visit before you die.

Intrigued, he decided to ride across the bleak desert environment, not knowing what to expect.

Will said: ‘During daylight, I was initially not impressed as it looked like a hole in a vast desert. As we got nearer and the glow from inside the carter became evident, though, I started to notice the size of the crater and wondered how could continually glow like that.

‘As I approached on foot, it became clear that this was a large crater and that inside was like a huge open furnace. At first, it appeared that it might have been a natural phenomenon, but the sides of the crater contradicted that. I could see the bent and rusted remains of some sort of metal railings or structure, implying some sort of catastrophe having occurred long before.

‘I stood there gazing into the crater, the sheer size and intensity of the fire inside became more and more apparent.

‘As the sun began to set, the location slowly transformed from a large, isolated furnace in the middle of the desert into the centre of attention that dominated the surrounding area – the glow became more intense and lit up the area including the sky above. It was impossible not to be drawn to the crater, something that was just dominant over the surrounding area.’

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