Every summer, the hills call out to all of us NRKs (non-resident Kumaonis) to come to UK (Uttarakhand to you desis). This year, we took the scenic Kaladhungi route past Jim Corbett’s terai home and lush green woods to arrive at Nainital and the mother of all traffic jams. This once-lovely hill station is now an air-conditioned version of Karol Bagh, so if you wish to walk in the hills my advice is: stay away from this honking-parping mess. But why blame Nainital alone? Simla, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, Kodaikanal, Ooty—all of them are gasping for air. Municipal services have broken down completely, leading to chronic water shortages, stinking gutters and choked drains. Why we never thought of developing other hill stations after the Brits left is a mystery. The cheery red tin roofs that once dotted verdant hillsides have been replaced by flat (and totally unsuitable) cement lintels and ‘high-rise’ apartments, where wet laundry is perpetually hung out to dry. Wherever we went: Almora, Ranikhet, Bhowali, Bhimtal or even in off-the-track pilgrim towns that were sleepy villages until a few years ago, traditional mud and wood houses are being replaced with cement boxes. These teeter dangerously on hillsides and the next time an earthquake hits the region, I shudder to think how many may perish.