It was a scientific expedition gone horribly wrong. In 1971, a group of Soviet scientists set up a drilling rig to assess what they thought was a substantial oil field in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert.
In fact, the ground beneath the rig was a massive natural gas field, which collapsed into a gaping crater upon the scientists’ arrival, swallowing the rig and their camp. Fearing the spread of poisonous methane gas, the scientists set the crater on fire, ripping open a hellish pit of vicious flames just beneath their feet. They hoped the gases would burn off within a few days or weeks.
That was four decades ago. Today, the 70m-wide, 30m-deep crater continues to burn so feverishly that locals have named the fearsome abyss of fire, flames and boiling mud the “Door to Hell”.
“It seems that the dangerous pit of fire will never stop burning” wrote Aditya Basu. But that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of travellers – some of whom even camp on the gas field – from visiting the seemingly-eternal inferno, a real-life hell on Earth.