A deadly mistake by a Soviet drilling team has created one of the most unforgettable experiences in Central Asia.

As night falls on the endless dusty plains near Derweze in the Karakum Desert, an eery orange glow appears on the horizon.

The closer you get the brighter and bigger it becomes.

The locals call it the ‘Door to Hell’ – a hissing, spitting crater of fire, 200 feet wide, that has been burning for 45 years. 

It was ignited in 1971 when Soviet geologists accidentally drilled into a huge underground cavern, filled with methane.

With plumes of poisonous gas escaping into the atmosphere, the geologists did the only thing they could to avert an environmental disaster. They set it on fire. 

A campfire beside the Gates of Hell (DarkyDoors/Shutterstock)
(© DarkyDoors/Shutterstock)
Road approaching the Gates of Hell (Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock)
(© Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock)

The crater has become Turkmenistan’s most unlikely tourist attraction. 

Travellers come from all over the world to stare into the oversized firepit, with some intrepid souls camping beside it, falling asleep to the sound of the roaring flames.

The Door to Hell has become a popular pitstop for drivers competing in the annual Mongol Rally, keen to get dramatic photos of themselves dancing naked on the edge of the rim.

Most other visitors organise a driver to take them there in the Turkmeni capital, Ashgabet, 160 to the south. 

They’ll all tell you that it is well worth the effort.

Main image: Sitting on the edge of the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan (© Dankc Adventure/Shutterstock)