Standing at the edge of a crater the size of an American football field that is leaking flaming gas, my old nemesis of vertigo was making himself known. Or was it just the smell of the methane fumes? I was standing alone at the edge of the Darvaza Gas Crater, central Turkmenistan, which is also known as the 'Door to Hell' - a very fitting accolade.
Central Asia; it's perhaps the lesser known segment of the continent to many travellers. If this is your first travel experience of the "five 'Stans" (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), there will be some guaranteed surprises along the way. Here are nine tips to bear in mind before you head to this incredible part of the world...
Climate change, inefficient water delivery systems, and intensive agriculture are making it more and more difficult to get clean water. As the world observes World Water Day on March 22, we need to consider what we need to do to solve water problems in Central Asia and the rest of the world. It's up to all of us.
It's clear that the biggest priority of all with regards to Uzbekistan is securing the safe passage of UK military equipment from Afghanistan back through Uzbek territory. In February the UK agreed to gift £450,000 of military kit to the country to secure such passage. Defence minister Philip Hammond said he was confident the kit would not be used for 'internal repression'. But even if this supposed confidence is not misguided, what message does it send that a government which just a few years ago was under strict arms embargoes from the EU and US on human rights grounds (for massacring hundreds of its own citizens in Andijan in 2005) is now enjoying military gifts from the UK?