Welcome to "The Gateway to Hell." This huge burning gas crater in the heart of Turkmenistan's Karakum desert was the result of a simple miscalculation by Soviet scientists in 1971. After their boring equipment drilled into an underground cavern, a deep sinkhole formed. The scientists took the decision to set the pit alight, thinking that the gas would burn out quickly but it never has.
Turkmenistan has been labeled one of the "world's most repressive states." Earlier this year, CNN's Amanda Davies was given rare access to this beautiful but bizarre nation as it prepares to open its doors for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017.
As well as burning gas craters, Turkmenistan has statues -- lots of them. This one is of Turkmenistan's former President Saparmurat Niyazov in front of the earthquake memorial in Ashgabat.
Another statue of Niyazov, with two soldiers standing guard, rises above the country's Independence Monument in Ashgabat. Turkmenistan became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Another image in our series of statues in honor of Niyazov.
Turkmen women with their faces covered to protect them from the sun, mop water in front of a mosque in the town of Kipchak, which is the birthplace of Niyazov. The building on the right is Niyazov's family mausoleum.
Before former leader Niyazov's death in 2006, the self-styled "Father of the Turkmen" expected his countrymen and women to take spiritual guidance from his own book, Ruhnama.
Young Turkmen men and women take part in an opening ceremony of the first monument to Turkmenistan's current president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat
A U.S. Embassy cable in 2009 described Berdimuhamedov as "vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, 'a good actor,' and vindictive."
People release balloons during a military parade marking Turkmenistan's Independence Day in Ashgabat in 2012.
Every emerging state needs hotels. This is the five-star hotel Yyldyz built by French Bouygues group.
The Bouygues group also built the Hotel Oguzkent in Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan says it has the fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world.
Turkmen women, wearing traditional embroidered caps walk in front of the National Press Building. The 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkmenistan 178 out of 180 countries. Only North Korea and Eritrea were ranked below Turkmenistan.
A night view of the Turkmen Independence Monument.
CNN's Amanda Davies is pictured inside the 20,000 capacity multipurpose Ashgabat Stadium. Since becoming president in 2006, Berdimyhamedov has heralded the importance of sport and the importance of a healthy nation.
Turkmenistan hopes to turn the Caspian Sea resort of Avaza into a water sports hub.
In 2011, Berdimuhamedov ordered an annual horse beauty contest, which is solely for the Akhal-Teke breed -- featured in the national emblem -- to compete in.
A view of the excavated and restored ancient fortress town of Gonur-Tep in the Kara Kum desert in remote western Turkmenistan.
A 900-kilometre (560 mile) railway through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran was launched in December. The railways is intended to link Central Asia to the trade routes of the Persian Gulf.