All our trips get among landscapes that fascinate and capture the imagination. Some destinations, however, are just that little bit special in their ability to offer up the unexpected, where natural elements, and sometimes the hand of man, have worked overtime to create something that captivates because of its otherness. One we’ve recently added to our trips is Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan, a mind-boggling open furnace in the middle of nowhere. Here’s Darvaza and a few of our other favourites.
A testament to Soviet-era planning, Darvaza is quite something, and utterly unlike anywhere else. Scientists, upon discovering a great underground natural gas field in Turkmenistan’s arid north, decided to burn it off by dropping a lit match down the yawning hole in the earth they’d created. The plan was ingenious: the fire would rage for a few days, swiftly and artfully consuming all the gas. Simple and brilliant. Decades later, the fire’s still raging.it must count as one of the world’s strangest sights, standing on the rim of a crater some 60 metres wide in the middle of the desert, looking down to the countless vicious fires seething below – the local tag ‘Door to Hell’ sums up Darvaza nicely.
Words like ‘majestic’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ are often bandied around when describing Antarctica, and with good reason. But the sheer weirdness of the land- and seascapes is less commonly commented upon. Throw together plenty of light and ice and you can’t fail to notice the dazzling, peculiar results. Huge blindingly white cliffs rising from inky-dark waters, blue-white solitary ice cubes the size of buildings silently drifting past your boat, aerial views revealing ice whipped into forests of spiked peaks and delicate frozen tracery shot through with luminescent, fragmented light. Any visitor here should prepare to recalibrate their sense of wonder.
There’s no delicate way of putting it, the earth was obviously feeling pretty horny when it created Cappadocia. Okay, so maybe there is a more delicate way of putting it than that – earth’s fruitiest hoodoos are locally known by the somewhat prudish, and very lovely, name ‘fairy chimneys’, a description that charms, but does little to convey the phallus-fixated sculptures the wind has carved here. For good measure, throw in some hobbit homes, churches carved into cliff faces and an entire underground city – Cappadocia’s melding of manmade marvels to nature’s surreal streak is unmissable.
A trip around Kamchatka alternates between feeling as if you’re exploring the world at its creation, and living through a particularly cataclysmic passage from the Book of Revelations. This is a place where entire lakes have boiled; the earth splits open periodically and gives birth to new volcanoes; and the countless thermal springs, boiling mud pools and 100,000 lakes and rivers, streaked with brilliantly coloured algae, are happy hunting grounds for bears and eagles. A vast land of oddity and wonder, far removed from the ordinary world, empty of people yet brimming with life.
Egypt’s watery wonders – the Red Sea, the Nile – are as well-documented as the country’s manmade legends, but the White Desert might just come as a surprise to visitors. And a glorious one. West of the Nile, Chalk has been eroded by wind, sculpted into shapes that force the imagination to run riot: over there a cloud tethered to the earth, nearby a mushroom cloud in mid-explosion; animals and marshmallows, cotton wool and toadstools – a phantasmagorical destination, and one that visitors to Egypt should place on their itinerary.
Another white desert, this time one of salt, 10,000 square kilometres in size and 4,000 metres up on Bolivia’s harsh, hypnotic altiplano. Uyuni is sublime in its emptiness, a dizzying place where earth and sky are as one, trees are made of rock, and the salt’s glassy surface makes the journey over it like driving on the world’s largest mirror. Hallucinogenic and fantastic, and for fans of forced perspective photography, welcome to heaven.
For more information on Darvaza Crater and Turkmenistan click here.