In the afternoon I jumped on the bike to cycle to the village of Ieli (or Eli). According to our guide books Ieli is the only place in the world where people still use sheep skins to filter streams for gold.
Left Mestia to the south and started riding up Mt. Zuruldi. After a few kilometers I came to a T-junction with two signs. Right: Ieli 8km, left: Ieli 8km. I took the left option as it was tarmaced and not on my map.
The road continued uphill and after a few more kilometers I hit a dead end: A hotel and a ski lift. Backtracked a bit and found a track that branched off the road. It was a bit muddy at times but mostly ok to ride on. After a while it got worse, though, and eventually it was almost entirely overgrown and only a footpath remained. Then all of a sudden it terminated at a freshly bulldozed track that seemed to be a maintenance track for the ski lift. I followed that track. It was so muddy and steep that I had to push the bike.
Eventually I reached the ridge near the ski lift’s hill station. Just like the track, everything in its vincinity was bulldozed without love, and very muddy. I cycled eastward until I could see Ieli – far down below in the valley! No path or track visible from where I was. So I turned around (and thereby unintentionally missed out on the summit of Mt. Zuruldi which was just a few hundred meters further down (up) the track).
The (muddy) track went downhill on the western slopes of Mt. Zuruldi and I came to the abandoned village of Heshkili, beautifully located at an elevation of about 2000m, amidst alpine meadows.
Here I met the other option coming from the T-junction, the track going to Ieli. It was quite late already and still a few kilometers to Ieli, but I decided to try and follow the track for a bit, at least until I could have a glimpse at the village again. When I did see it, it started to rain and I turned around to return to Mestia.
It was an awesome downhill ride, going down from almost 2000 to 1400m.
Too bad I chose the ‘good road’ earlier. I’d have reached Ieli for sure had I used the track to Heshkili immediately.
Max. Speed: 60kph