This is the second crater that you can go see on your way to Hell's Gate in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. Probably the biggest of the lot, and this one oozes gas which results in mud bubbles brewing at the bottom of this pit. There is a metal barrier which was put up recently (apparently camels and other large items have met with unfortunate ends in days gone by), but you can still go right up to the edge. Be careful, the soil felt pretty damp, soft and loose in places!
You do need good drivers who know what they're doing and where to go as there are no road signages, jeeps are advisable as there's a fair bit of offroad driving involved. This mud crater was a little over 2.5 hours north of Ashgabat, and about a minute's drive off the main road from Ashgabat to Dashoguz.
Turkmenistan is filled with awesome stuff to do which most travellers may not get to see due to lack of time or info... and actually many locals don't really travel all that much to the hinterlands either. My latest adventure as seen in this pic was a short excursion to the Karakum Desert in search of the Darwaza well, locally known as the "Gate to Hell" a massive flaming gas crater (about 100m diameter x 20m depth) in the middle of nowhere, to the north of Ahal Wilayaty near the border to Dashoguz. It was a result of sulphur mining during Soviet times, when they decided to flare the toxic gas in 1971. It was estimated the fires would die out in a few weeks but 30 years on it's still burning...!
This crater is probably the hardest to get to, 3 hours north of Ashgabat (about 270km away), turn right off the road just before the border sign to Dashoguz, and drive about 7km inland.
The whole trip took us to 3 craters, one filled with water with gas bubbles gently fizzing like freshly poured coke in a glass, the second filled with mud also with bubbling gas, but the third and most awesome sight was this fiery pit! There's no barrier around it so when the wind picks up it really feels like you can fall in!
This is the first Darwaza crater in the trilogy of abandoned gas wells in the middle of Karakum Desert situated north of Ahal Wilayaty, Turkmenistan. Smallest of the lot, but still pretty deep, with a metal barrier installed to avoid cars and animals from going too near the edge, but it didn't seem to stop us as we peered over to find amazing blue-green waters with gently fizzing gas bubbles... you can smell the sulphur in the air but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. A fall in would still be pretty miserable I'd imagine unless you can claw your way back up the rough shalestone sides of the crater (not likely...)
As with the rest there are no signages to point you to this destination, but you might just be able to make out the metal barriers on the left side of the main road to Dashoguz. There are some small hills and rock outcrops nearby which was what the driver seemed to be looking out for.
Without any explanation it is not easy to recognise the origin or meaning of the remains of Nisa. Not all is still excavated and during our visit in summer 2008 restoration works were still going on.
The description of Unesco of the site is as follows:
The Parthian fortresses of Nisa consist of Old and New Nisa, The unexcavated remains of this ancient civilization which skilfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions.
During our walk at the site one of the archaeologists gave us some explanation. We visited the Round Hall (picture 1) of 17 m diameter. It was explained as a typical example of the zoroastrian period with a lower floor with smooth walls and an upper floor with columns and clay statues of gods.
Another part we visited was the 40 meter long Red Building (picture 2). Here the archaeologists found a stone frieze with raised geometrical ornaments and fragments of a figure of an eagle (now in the museum). In the Square Hall of 20x20 meter we saw the remains of the four bladed columns (picture 3). It is said that this hall was probably the reception hall of the king for his guests.
You need really a lot of imagination to get the slightest idea how the capital has looked like in the former days.
Except a small entrance fee for the ancient site you need a ticket for making pictures. It costs 30.000 manat. This is about 3-4 euro.
The remains of Nisa on the plateau are surrounded by ridges. These ridges were the walls of the Nisa fortress. Coming back from the ruins we decided to climb the ridges and walk back to the exit this way (picture 2). Though it was summer and extremily hot it was nice to walk on the ridge because of a little breeze.
The view from the ridge at the mountains (picture 1) and the fields and village nearby (picture 3) were wonderful and gave a stunning overview over the whole area around Nisa . Also the review at the ruines of the city (picture 4) was nice. From the ridge you could rather easily descend (picture 5) to the roofed entrance/exit of the site where you had to buy your tickets.
Nisa is founded as capital of the Parthians in the 3rd century BC. The Parthian kings put undertheir supervision a huge territory from Mesopotamia in the Middle East to the borders of India (from the mid 3rd century BC till the mid 3rd century AD). As such it formed a barrier to Roman expansion and at the same time Nisa was serving as an important communications and trading centre, at the crossroads of north-south and east-west routes.
After the empire of Alexander the Great several dynasties ruled the smaller Parthian Kingdom. Finally in the 13th century the Mongols sieged the city Nisa and destroyed it totally.
The first archaeological research of old Nisa started in 1925. From that period several international archaeological missions worked and still work in old Nisa. In 2007 'the unique historical architectural monuments of the Parthian empire' became an UNESCO World Heritage site.
In its glorious days Nisa was reinforced with more than 40 towers to protect the royal palace and the temples. It's hard to recognise the unexcavated remains without any explanation. There are remains of a Square Hall, Round Hall and Treasury House.
The ruins of Nisa are situated 16-18 km south east of Ashgabat, close to the village of Bagyr at the foothills of the Kopetdag mountains.
Mary is a city east of Ashgabat , around 100 miles away. If you thought Ashgabat is a long ways from anything, Mary is even farther. It lies in the steppes and is the stopping point if you want to see the ruins of Merv on the Silk Road.
We stayed in a what could only be called a fleabag generously. The town had rows of small houses and occasional long apartment blocks with satellite dishes from most windows that reminded me of mushrooms after a rain storm.
My most vivid memory was drinking Russian beer with some of the locals on a dusty night, listening to some cool Turkish dance music coming from a bar across the parking lot, and marvelling that I was 11 time zones away from home.