'Well of Hell,' gaping desert hole, is shrouded in mystery

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Far out in Yemen's remote eastern desert landscape, a gaping hole in the ground believed to be "million and millions" years old fascinates and mystifies locals.

Those who live near the hole, named the Well of Barhout, believe anything that comes close to the "Hell Pit" will be sucked in without escape. The hole looms large in the public's imagination. According to Yemeni legend, "extinct tongues fizz on cold nights" there, a reference to what might be lurking inside the hole.

Shrouded in mystery, the Well of Barhout is in the Yemen desert, near the border with Oman. The natural wonder, popularly known as the "Well of Hell," is in the Al-Mahra province and is 100 feet wide and thought to reach 330 feet down, but there are those who claim it's as much as 820 feet deep.

Nobody has ever been to the bottom.

A video crew from AFP recently flew a drone over the hole and captured stunning aerial footage of the mysterious pit. However, even with the drone flying directly over the hole and with the camera lens pointed straight down, it was impossible to see into its depths due to the extreme darkness.

(Photo credit: AFP)

Yemeni oral tradition, passed down for centuries, calls the well "a prison of dark spirits sheltered by unbearable odors that come from its entrails." Yemeni officials have said they don't know what's down there, although geologists recently visited the site.

"We have gone to visit the area and entered the well, reaching more than 50-60 meters (164-174 feet) down into it. We noticed strange things inside," Salah Babhair, director-general of Mahra's geological survey and mineral resources authority, told AFP. "We also smelled something strange ... It's a mysterious situation."

Babhair added, "It's very deep - we've never reached the bottom of this well, as there's little oxygen and no ventilation."

People who have been near the well often talk of a foul, toxic odor. Ammar Hashem Mohammed Osman, who performed military service at a camp near the well, wrote, "The smell was unbearable.. Bad smell like rotten eggs.. I was nauseated by the severity of the smell."

Not much can be seen from the edge of the well as sunlight doesn't extend very far down inside and, according to AFP, videographers say it's hard to capture anything when they shoot down inside. Still, despite the stench emanating from it, different types of birds are often seen flying in and out of the inky darkness.

The weather in this part of Yemen is typically very hot and dry during the summer, though there can be thunderstorms over the nearby mountains on a rare occasion. Overall, the region does not receive much rain with normal highs in the summer in the 90s to low 100s and normal highs in the winter in the 70s and 80s.

Stories of demons and other supernatural figures known as jinns or genies that live in the well have circulated among locals over the centuries. Many nearby residents don't even like to talk about the hole, let alone visit it, for fear of bad luck.

Babhair said the well has been there "millions and millions" of years, and he hopes to continue to learn more about it.

"These places require more study, research and investigation."

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