Text: GG van Rooyen
Few places on earth remain as untouched by modern civilisation as the Altai mountains in central Asia. The mountain range, which is 2000km long and stands at the point where Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan meet, is cold, desolate and inhospitable. Day temperatures during winter rarely creep above freezing.
Many of the communities found here still live much as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Archery competitions take place regularly. Families live in traditional huts called yurts. Most meals consist primarily of meat.
To get hold of meat for the pot, Kazakh men in the region make use of trained eagles. Young eagles are taken from their nests and trained until they are able to hunt foxes, rabbits and even wolves. While hunting, these men also make use of Mongolian horses – the same breed of horses used by Genghis Kahn’s infamous warriors.
Life in the Altai mountains remains largely traditional, and as one might expect, this sort of untouched splendour attracts a fair number of adventure seekers. Rafting and skiing are especially popular.
Predictably, it is also a great hunting destination. And well-to-do hunters like to visit the mountains to hunt in the traditional manner – with eagles.
Organising a hunting expedition in this remote region, however, isn’t easy. If you plan on scouring this wild region for prey, you need a vehicle that’s capable of traversing ugly terrain, and portable accommodation capable of withstanding the freezing weather.
Two Mongolian businessmen have come up with an ingenious, albeit expensive, solution. They have purchased two Mercedes-Benz Zetros that have been designed specifically for overland expeditions.
These military-spec behemoths offer a six-wheel-drive system with three differential locks and a low-range transfer case.
Power is generated by a 7,2-litre six-cylinder in-line engine that generates 240 kW of power and 1300 Nm of torque.
The vehicles’ cabs sport CD players, hands-free Bluetooth systems, seven-inch touch screens and reversing cameras.
Behind the cabs are two virtually identical bodies customised specifically for the region’s harsh conditions. Substantial insulation and air conditioning not only keep occupants warm in winter but also keep out the heat when the region turns unbearably hot in summer.
Since these are leisure vehicles, they aren’t austere either. Each vehicle has two large television screens, a Bose sound system connected to a Mac Mini and a satellite dish.
The dining table retracts into the floor with the push of the button and there’s leather-clad seating for six. The bathroom has a marble floor – with under-floor heating. One of the vehicles even has a cargo bay that holds a quad bike.
“Mongolians love their freedom, and greatly enjoy excursions into the varied natural surroundings of their high-altitude homeland. Whereas only the horse was once a suitable means of transport for this purpose, two businessmen friends in Ulan-Bator decided in favour of the Zetros as a more modern and luxurious way of negotiating the terrain,” reads Daimler’s press release.
Indeed, these two Zetros seem like the perfect expedition vehicles for the region – provided you have loads of tugriks in your bank account. It matches the capability of Ghengis Kahn’s warhorses with the opulence of Kublai Khan’s Xanadu. What more could the Mongolian millionaire ask for?