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Turkmenistan hopes 'Door to Hell' will boost tourism

Published on Jun 20, 2014 11:58 AM
People visiting "The Door to Hell", a huge burning gas crater in the heart of Turkmenistan's Karakum desert on May 3. The fiery pit was the result of a simple miscalculation by Soviet scientists in 1971 after their boring equipment suddenly drilled through into an underground cavern and a deep sinkhole formed. Fearing that the crater would emit poisonous gases, the scientists took the decision to set it alight, thinking that the gas would burn out quickly and this would cause the flames to go out. But the flames have not gone out in more than 40 years, in a potent symbol of the vast gas reserves of Turkmenistan, which are believed to be the fourth largest in the world. PHOTO: AFP

KARAKUM DESERT (Turkmenistan) (AFP) - Locals call it the Door to Hell, a giant burning pit that has spit out angry flames for more than 40 years, casting a yellow-orange glow into the evening sky.

"It takes your breath away," said visitor Gozel Yazkulieva, 34, from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat. "You immediately think of your sins and feel like praying."

Few foreigners have seen the crater in the heart of the Karakum, one of the world's largest deserts, although Turkmen authorities are hoping to change that as they seek ways to bolster tiny visitor numbers to the former Soviet republic.

Still one of the world's most isolated countries almost a quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan welcomes just 12,000 to 15,000 tourists from around 50 countries each year.

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