The Real Reason Turkmenistan Is Closing Its Gate To Hell

That's right, folks, the Gate to Hell is closing. Last chance to nab tickets; pre-orders no longer available. Oh, not the infernal realm of eternal torment and damnation? The other "hell" in Turkmenistan, north of Iran? No offense, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. We know it's a sensitive issue. So sensitive, in fact, that President Berdymukhamedov wants to close the gate before all the demons flood through it and – er, before any more tourists can visit. 

Much of Turkmenistan is covered in the Karakum Desert, and the main selling point of the desert is its "Gate to Hell," or "Door to Hell." The by-product of a bungled Soviet gas-drilling escapade in 1971 where all the equipment collapsed into an underground cavern, the "Darvaza Crater" (it's official name) burns and burns without end, as Atlas Obscura describes. Officials at the time tried to stop their self-created methane leak by tossing a proverbial match into the crater, thinking it would burn off in a couple of weeks. But no. It continues to roar "as loud as a jet engine," like a "coliseum of fire" composed of thousands of flames, as The Guardian reports explorer George Kourounis describing in 2013. 

Now, as an entire vagabondish itinerary on Caravanistan outlines, anyone can book a car, bike, or camel to travel hundreds of kilometers from Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, and stay in a yurt (desert tent) near the site. President Berdymukhamedov, though? He thinks the whole thing's got to go.

Grab a ticket before it closes for good

As originally reported on France24, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov stated in January 2022, that the Darvaza Crater, "negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby." He also stated of Turkmenistan, which has the world's sixth-largest natural gas reserves (per The Guardian), "We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people." Back in 2010, Berdymukhamedov previously called for scientists to devise a solution to snuff out the crater's flames, but to little effect.

As the president of Turkmenistan going back to 2006, Berdymukhamedov has reportedly developed quite the reputation as a lavish spender on new buildings and lover of gold and marble, particularly in the country's capital. The same year Berdymukhamedov came into power, Ashgabat saw a new $2.3-billion airport rise in its midst. Whether to bolster the economy of a nation where a "Gate to Hell" is its primary tourist draw, or to raise "the international profile of Turkmenistan," as CNN puts it, is up to debate. As Reporters without Borders cites, Turkmenistan ranks only above North Korea and Eritrea, and right under China, in terms of freedom of the press. We might not be hearing the whole story.

One thing's for sure: if you want to take a sojourn to hell, grab a ticket before it's too late.