The underestimation

When it happened, I wonder what they said.

How they looked at each other.

Above all, I wonder who, among them, had that bright idea.

“Let set it on fire”.

“It will stop burning, eventually. My grandma used to say it would”.

Around them, some scarce sand acacia, some under-nourished saksaul.

“Look at those idiots, Mankind”. That’s what Nature must often think of us.

And the look on the engineers’ faces!

The amount of time they must have spent calculating where exactly they would need to drill down the ground in the Karakum Desert. “I told you: we need to drill here. Not in one kilometre. Here. Who has a degree in engineering? You or me?”.

Some of them, I am sure, they must have snapped: “We planned to intentionally create the Gate to Hell”. Others, I am even surer, must have hoped to fall into the Gate of Hell.

They were looking for oil or some gas that has been running for millions of years in the underground of this black desert that covers nearly 70% of Turkmenistan and can sometimes offer some green surprises: they are oases, where they grow cotton.

People don’t travel to Turkmenistan to see its oases, although I must admit they are pretty breath-taking because they appear in front of you when you least expect them on roads that most travellers do not even glimpse.

People go to Turkmenistan and spend hours driving jeeps to go to the desert after leaving the deserted capital city Ashgabat, to see Derweze, the Gate to Hell.

Hell is there, waiting for you in the middle of nowhere. You lean forward towards those immense holes in the ground. You hope for a great photo. Some of your hairs might get burnt in the process, but who cares. It’s worth it. It’s also worth to climb one of the few rock dunes that can be found around them. You see Hell from above.

I remember their light, in the night, eerie, luring. From our tents, you could not see them properly. You could feel those flames, though. In your nostrils. In the air, there was a sort of anomalous electricity. Although that fire was stupidly caused by Man, its duration over the last 30 plus years has been the proof of the power of nature. Of what runs beneath us. Of what we are trying to destroy with such profound vehemence because of a senseless thirst for power.

 Turkmenistan: portraits 

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