You’re just a bit anxious. After all, a complete stranger is telling you to leave his vehicle somewhere in the middle of an absolute nowhere.
A kilometer or two away there are some lights blinking, these must be the road-side chaikhanas – a combination of a coffee house, restaurant and guest house furnished with carpets and a bunch of pillows.
It’s late in the evening when the desert begins to captivate you. You go in deeper, relying on the moon light, duracells in your torch and a compass, since the GPS battery just died. You keep walking, not at all thinking if there’s a purpose.
Not even once does the thought of you being somewhere else right now cross your mind. Theoretically, there are three ways to use the five days of transit visa which the consul will grant you if he’s in a good mood, but Silk Road cities, desert landscapes and Caspian coast can be found in other, more visa-generous countries. This – you will find nowhere else in the world.
Santa lives on the North Pole, the gods on Mount Olympus, Asterix in Gaul and Robin Hood in Sherwood. In Darvaza there are 4 chaikhanas, a railway station and the beginning of a trail that leads through the desert to a giant hole in the ground. In Darvaza there’s the Door to Hell.
After an hour of marching you notice a glow. Mirage? No, no, you’re still fine. Follow the light. It will keep getting brighter, more hypnotising with every step.
You stride more confidently now, humming Hakuna Matata. Soon it will get to you that it’s the middle of winter, somewhat around midnight and you are marching across frozen sand dunes with your backpack in order to spend the night over the most spectacular fireplace in the world.
You’re here. You can’t believe your eyes. Close them for a second and look again. It’s still burning.
It’s been burning for 45 years. Blazing with every shade of passion, gushing raging heat, a football pitch sized crater. Deep as a blue whale in a hat, magnet for backpackers, explorers, tourists. Record‑breaking, although not very user friendly barbeque place. Best heated camping, where you’re just pitching the only tent.
Tomorrow morning, when you wake up and take a look outside to make sure that Hell didn’t engulf you, you’ll notice the yurts scattered around, the gas pipelines cutting the desert and the nomads grazing sheep, which is logical, because everybody knows that sheep eat sand and gravel.
You’ll pack you backpack, warm your hands for another while and the route across the dunes will lead you to one of the four chaikhanas.
The Nemo picture used in the article comes from the following source: