Turkmenistan: the Darvaza Gas Crater – Part 7

What to Bring for This 10km There and Back Desert Ramble.

Part 1 – Intro
Part 2 – Brief history
Part 3 – Visas & airport
Part 4 – Sightseeing in Ashgabat
Part 5 – People & police
Part 6 – Getting to the desert
Part 7 – Hiking to the gas crater
Part 8 – Escaping the desert
Part 9 – Crossing the border to Uzbekistan

  • Hiking boots
  • 3L of water each
  • Provisions for dinner and breakfast
  • Warm layers for the cold desert night
  • Compass
  • Optional: sleeping mat
  • Optional: tarp shelter (we slept in a survival bag, which was adequate).

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone walking to the crater, it’s bring a compass. I almost think it’s worth putting that in shouty capital letters. Seriously, bring a compass!

We didn’t have one because frankly we were plonkers.

As the man of the shack instructed us, we walked up and over the dune and then crossed over the train tracks no problem. Unfortunately, there’s no path and the only landmarks after that was sand, sand and more sand.

As Straightforward as Walking in a Straight Line in the Desert.

karakum desert turkmenistan4

This way, maybe.

Soon enough disagreements began. I thought we needed to go further to the left, my friend thought we needed to go further to the right. We muddled on, grumbling that the other one was trying to veer us in the wrong direction.

Soon it was twilight and the moon appeared. There were many theories on how we could use its position to divine the direction we needed to go. Still we couldn’t find the crater. At this point the sun had completely set, the desert night was pitch black and we were lost.

karakum desert sunset turkmenistan

Oh dear.

What’s more we only had a half a litre of water left between us. Things were desperate.

That’s When We Spotted a Red Glow in the Distance Behind Us.

Like moths, we were compelled to approach the red glow on the horizon. As we trudged closer, we heard a rumbling, a rumbling turning to a resounding roar as we neared the source.

darvaza gas crater

A beacon from Hell.

Finally, we climbed over a hill and found ourselves gazing down into the gaping mouth of the crater.

A great fire ball blazed furiously in the centre. Flames danced all the way up the rocky walls, encircling the lower rim in flickering firelight and leaving the earth scorched charcoal black. It burned so hot you could only get so close until your face felt like melting wax. If I believed in Hell, then this would surely be the waiting room.

darvaza gas crater night

A pleasant evening by the fireside.

darvaza gas crater night

We need a bigger firetruck.

We weren’t alone during this experience. As we sat admiring the furnace, eating our sausage and bread, the tourists that we’d heard so many rumours about began appearing out of the darkness to stare into the crater. Almost all of them arrived, as recommended by the strange policeman, by expensive jeep.

Once we had had our fill of flames and sausage, it was time to settle down for the night. Note that it’s not a good idea to sleep too close to the crater otherwise you’d inhale an unhealthy amount of methane gas. Luckily, there is an ideal spot for wild camping just behind a nearby hill. We roughed it in a survival bag, but you’d be more comfortable with a sleeping mat. A tent/tarp is completely optional, but I’d bring a few warm layers as it does get quite cold at night (despite being next to your own personal heating system).

karakum desert turkmenistan night2

Admiring the night sky from our sleeping spot.

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