This Independence fortnight has been gossipy and scandal-ridden in Islamabad. The weather has been particularly humid and hot, atypical of this city where a few hot summer days are followed by rain when it cools off. But it has not been so this year. This year, we seem to have had a taste of climate change that, I think, was caused by the cutting of hundreds of thousand trees to accommodate large construction projects. Transparency International (TI), the anti corruption watchdog has for years found large construction projects to contain the highest quantum of corruption, changing their first position with defense procurement sometimes. Recently, with reference to large roads, flyovers and underpasses, an official told me that "the contractors had taken the CDA awash with cash to ransom". If Islamabad is taken as an example of development what must be the condition of the provinces where public resources are enormously greater. Unsurprisingly, the TI Pakistan has just said that corruption in Pakistan had increased as much as four times in the last three years. God sink such developers, contractors and government officials in the Rawal Lake. They are criminals who are also devastating the environment, the only thing the poor residents of this city really had. Load shedding has made the heat more oppressive, nobody feeling really festive, except for the PPP flags all along the capital highways, Pakistan flag conspicuous by its absence. But the pitch of gossip is high. The rumors of tension between the PM and the President persist. Officials' appointment and posting, cabinet changes and Musharraf's trial were all subjects of gossip, sickening, scandalous gossip, most people wondering when our rulers would put their act together. More gossip: rental power, steel mill, the US embassy expansion and posting of Marines; people chatted away ceaselessly. Most conversations about different scandals, there was nothing either on the TV or Isloo drawing rooms except puerile, inane comments on grave challenges. One advantage of living in Islamabad is that you are not far from hill stations. This is of particular relief in the summer months when the heat in the plains becomes unbearable. At least that is how things used to be before the builders had taken over the entire landscape. Up to the sixties there was a regular government bus from Rawalpindi to Murree. Government Transport plied regularly from the NWFP as well: from Peshawar through Abbotabad over Nathiagali to Murree. There were a number of halting stations on the way where you could drop; the entire range was well covered. But it was Murree people from the Punjab mostly visited. The upper classes had homes there where they moved for the summer as soon as the schools and colleges closed. Some of them had children studying in the local convents or boarding schools. The journey to Murree was through green hills and generally enjoyable. Traffic was orderly, and just more than half way, about 45 minutes from Pindi, you felt relief from heat as the air dramatically cooled off. Since those times I have not been to Murree very much. Having remained in Hazara and later in the AK, I have rather trekked in different hilly terrain, one more beautiful than the other: Kaghan in Hazara and the Neelum Valley on the other side of the mountain in AK. Tired of the oppressive Isloo atmosphere I decided to go on a trek to Khaira Gali on the 14th August long week end. Khaira Gali is a quiet and sleepy little place with a small bazaar, just the other side of Barian on the Nathia Gali Road in the NWFP. A road rises like a V from the bazaar and goes over the ridge about 7500 ft above sea level along some old bungalows and new villas of the novo riche contractors and goes right down to the Jehlum river near Bakot. The views, clouds floating through the valley just below Shangla Gali forest, are beautiful. But getting to Khaira Gali was a nightmare. The traffic was wild and the road was littered with over loaded, under powered motor cars, heated up and broken down in the middle of the road, causing long traffic jams. I found the Expressway hopelessly aligned, more poorly aligned perhaps than the road from Kohala to Sirinagar the Maharaja of J&K built along the Jhelum. That, of course, was the best aligned road in the world in 1904 To think that the Expressway has done away with acres and acres of pristine pine forest I went to Khaira Gali to trek an abandoned jeep track replaced by the metal road. The jeep track is now green with small grass growing from it. It is a steep trek, but as it goes through a thick blue pine forest, it is beautiful and the sound of birds - no traffic, no people - is constant. I did the trek and it was great, out of this world: quiet, strenuous and soul enriching. Coming back to the grind in Islamabad, I wish I had stayed there.