A gaping hole in the Earth that has been shrouded in mystery for centuries has finally been explored. The natural wonder, popularly known as the "Well of Hell," has for years endured as an enigma in the desert in the Al-Mahra province of Yemen. The well measures 100 feet wide and reaches about 360 feet down.
Until recently, nobody had ever been to the bottom; however, there has been much conjecture about what might be lurking down there.
Those who live near the hole, officially named the Well of Barhout, have long believed anything that comes close to the pit would be sucked in without escape. Yemeni oral tradition, passed down for centuries, calls the well "a prison of dark spirits sheltered by unbearable odors that come from its entrails."
An Omani caver prepares to descend into the depths of the previously unexplored "Well of Hell" in the Yemen desert. (AFP)
As recently as this summer, Yemeni officials admitted they didn't know what might be down there. Stories of demons and other supernatural figures known as jinns or genies that live in the well have circulated among locals throughout the centuries. Many nearby residents don't even like to talk about the hole, let alone visit it, for fear of bad luck.
In spite of the terrifying lore that has kept explorers away, a team of Omani cavers, the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET), made what is believed to be the first descent to the bottom of the fabled "Hell Pit" last week. Mohammed al-Kindi, a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman, told AFP the cavers were intensely drawn to exploring the well.
In a landmark mission, they made it to the bottom of the hole and, in doing so, got to the bottom of what's actually down there, something Kindi discussed in interviews after the expedition.
A photo of the gaping hole as seen from above. (AFP)
"Passion drove us to do this, and we felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history," said Kindi, who also owns a mining and petroleum consultancy firm.
As for the stench that purportedly emanates from the gaping hole, Kindi said he smelled nothing resembling what's been passed down through the folklore. "There were dead birds, which does create some bad odors," he told AFP, "but there was no overwhelming bad smell."
The weather in this part of Yemen is typically very hot and dry during the summer, but there can be thunderstorms over the nearby mountains on a rare occasion. Although September is one of the wettest months of the year there, overall, the region does not receive much rain. Normal highs range from the 90s F to low 100s F during summer to the 70s F and 80s F in the wintertime.
The weather during the crew's mission to reach the bottom of the "Well of Hell" appeared to be rather tranquil, if not totally cooperative.
Kindi was one of eight adventurous cave explorers who rappelled down the hole last week, while two colleagues remained at the surface. They spent about six hours in the cave. After centuries of terrifying legends that inspired fear throughout generations, the footage they captured shows an incredibly beautiful and tranquil scene.
The video shows a waterfall raining down into the well, which opens up into a fairly expansive area at the bottom. The cave is encircled by stunning sweeps of rock decorated with colorful stalagmites. The team also found and photographed strangely beautiful bright green formations known as cave pearls which are created by dripping water.
A caver with OCET stands at the bottom of the Well of Barhout. (AFP)
"Cave pearls are concentric calcium carbonate deposits that form around nuclei under falling water. These rings are smoothed by the movement of water falling for thousands of years until they form beautiful pearl shapes," Kindi told The National News.
Cave pearls were found at the bottom of the well. (AFP)
So what about imprisoned evil genies or other supernatural spirits legend has placed at the bottom of the hole?
No sign of them or any previous human explorations, Kindi revealed. "There were snakes, but they won't bother you unless you bother them," he said in an interview with AFP.
And the terrain at the bottom was largely pristine in terms of not having been touched by humans.
"There were no footprints or other signs of disturbances," Kindi told The National News. "None of the prior missions there have been documented so it's unclear whether anyone had actually gone down there, although it's difficult to be 100% certain."
The cavers collected samples of the birds as well as water, rocks and soil, with the plan to analyze everything and report their findings to the public.
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