A fiery crater burning in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert may enjoy an imposing name from locals who call it the "Door to Hell," but government officials see the pit as a possible tourism hotspot in the midst of the isolated country.
An impressive sight that would give Dante Alighieri pause, the "Door to Hell" has been burning in the Karakum desert for over 40 years. Turkmen geologist Anatoly Bushmakin explained to IOL Travel how the flaming crater, the result of a soviet drilling error, came into being:
"Soviet geologists started drilling a borehole to prospect for gas at this spot in 1971. The boring equipment suddenly drilled through into an underground cavern, and a deep sinkhole formed. The equipment tumbled through but fortunately no one was killed."Scientists decided to set the crater aflame amidst fears it would emit poisonous gases, Bushmakin explained, thinking that the fires would burn out after just a few days. They never did, and the "Door to Hell" has been burning ever since.
Officials in Turkmenistan see the crater as an opportunity to boost tourism to the former Soviet republic, which is still one of the world's most isolated countries. Decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan only welcomes around 12,000 to 15,000 tourists each year. Despite those low numbers, "The burning crater... is attracting more and more interest every year, especially among foreign tourists," according to an official on Turkmenistan's state committee on tourism.
According to the International Business Times, Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, ordered the site closed in April 2010, although it remains open. Just last year, Berdimuhamedow created a state nature reserve in the Karakum desert that includes the "Door to Hell." Gozel Yazkulieva, a 34-year-old visitor from the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat, described the crater as a breathtaking sight, saying that upon viewing it, "you immediately think of your sins and feel like praying."
Officials who believe the area may be ripe for scientific and Eco-tourism are certainly not wrong about the possible economic benefits the "Door to Hell" may bring. As The Inquisitr reported previously, the tourism industry in New Zealand saw a 10 percent spike in the first four months of 2013, following the release of The Hobbit, which was filmed in the country.
Ovez Kurbanov of Turkmenistan's National Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna said that "Landmarks such as the burning crater are hugely interesting both to people who love to travel and to researchers in various areas." Kurbanov asserted that the main purpose of his office "is to create an attractive image of Turkmenistan as a tourism destination," a task in which officials hope the "Door to Hell" will be an asset.
[Images via MailOnline]