Is this a volcano? A meteor crater? Actually,  it is the gate to Hell.

Pause for effect…one, two, three…

At least that’s what the locals have nicknamed this 270 foot wide flaming hole, located 260 km north of the rockin’ city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. “Darvaza” literally translates to ”Hell’s gate”, a fitting description for a collapsed natural gas cavern.

In 1971, Soviet geologists drilled into a natural gas pocket, which in turn, swallowed the rig and everything around it. They decided to “flare” the gases spewing from the crater to protect nearby villages from noxious fumes. Reportedly, the drillers expected the flames to extinguish themselves within a few days.

However, I think Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the ranking geologist on site, knew the crater would burn indefinitely when he ordered it alight. Why, then, did he still follow through with this? Tourism dollars.

For centuries, noteworthy travelers such as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Joseph Stalin had frequented Turkmenistan, sustaining its economy with their lavish playboy lifestyles.

By 1971, neighboring Turkic countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan began to compete for the region’s historically active travel industry by launching a string of luxury terrorist training camps.

By simply flicking his cigarette into the gaseous hole and naming it Hell’s Gate, Berdimuhamedow insured Turkmenistan’s share of the Jihad tourist market for generations to come.