Happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful, be joyful, and remember those who are less fortunate

My dear readers,

As the year winds down, Jack O’ Lanterns are done greeting trick or treating juvenile posses, green leaves decide to join the carnival and burst into a riot of amber-hued pageantry, and Christmas shopping lists get longer… the fourth Thursday of November is before us and Thanksgiving is here.

It may be a quintessential American tradition, but for me the significance is universal. Set aside one day in a year where all people regardless of race, color, creed, or social status, gather around for a feast with their family and friends and give thanks. What are YOU thankful about?

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

~ Melody Beattie, Author

  • I’m thankful for plenty of things. Among others, for my wife’s successful surgery; and speedy recovery; for our eldest son doing well in college and for choosing the right path in his proverbial “fork in the road of his academic life”; for our youngest son’s early acceptance at a prestigious college on the East Coast. I’m of course thankful for turning 50 with my sanity in tact; but most of all for the rare opportunity of having all my four parents (who flew in from afar), both sons (and my eldest’s  girlfriend), and believed close friends by my side… helping me celebrate my half a century walking the earth and still acting like a 12 year old!
  • I’m thankful for all my guardian angels for their incessant hard work and overtime (my brother-in-law always reminds me that mine do, and his are therefore working part time!); I’m thankful for my parter-in-crime and best friend for never ceasing to teach me the values of compassion with her random act of kindness of helping friends and often practical strangers.
  • I’m thankful for the big mouth, social skills, talents, and decent confidence I am blessed with in seeking new businesses and working with great clients who keep my solution searching and brand building skills in overdrive; I’m thankful for all the business partners, and colleagues who make all work possible. And of course I’m thankful to you, my dear readers, for welcoming me into your world, giving me the attention and the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge.
  • And finally I thank God for giving me good health, an indescribable family, a sane mind, and steady fingers to type this message and keep all my blogs alive.

PS: I searched for Thanksgiving messages that had a decidedly modern design, and found the ones you see on this page. I particularly like Google’s Thanksgiving banner this year.

Inspiration: Inspired Every Moment; Cinnamon Hollow; I am a reader, not a writer; 365 Give; Simple as That

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And the Sumatra journey begins…

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Crossing Bohorok River on wooden bridge, entering Bukit Lawang, the gateway to Gunung Leuser National Park, natural habitat of the Orang Utan. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

Medan, the colonial city with a storied past

Monday, May 21, 2012. Medan, North Sumatra.

We embark on our Sumatra Adventure Trip via Medan, the capital of North Sumatra Province. A teeming metropolis, Indonesia’s third largest city. We were pleasantly surprised to see a relatively compact city, with a big urban feel, greeted by an antiquated airport that is literally smack dab in the city center. Our hotel, Aryaduta, was a mere 10 minute drive from the airport. A stone throw away from the old colonial downtown, a treasure trove of art deco and classical architecture, witnesses to Medan’s bygone era as an important trading city, built on the riches of rubber, palm oil and tobacco plantations.

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Art Deco curves that have withstood the test of time.

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Remnants of the past in Medan’s old colonial heart.

Medan is the gateway to the Northern part of Sumatra, and her major tourist attractions such as Lake Toba, Gunung Leuser National Park (one of only two natural habitats of the Orang Utan), the Highlands and Palm Oil Plantations, as well as Aceh Province (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam), further afield. Aceh’s claim to fame was the unfortunate site of 2004 Boxing Day Earthquake and Tsunami, which was the worst Tsunami disaster in the 21st century.

Anytime a discussion ensures over Indonesia, it’s always relevant to mention her staggering stats and figs, for many around the world still fail to realize Indonesia’s size. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, with over 15,000 islands (the exact count really depends on who’s counting, but a few hit and misses are irrelevant). With a population of about 238 million, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, and is situated on the “ring of fire”, the proud owner of the world’s greatest number of active volcanoes.

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The ornate interior of the Tjong A Fie Mansion and Museum.

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Tjong A Fie Mansion, built in 1899, an excellent reference on Medan’s rich history.

Indonesia has had her share of image problem and misconception. In recent memory it drew global attention for all the wrong reasons; natural disasters, bombings, terrorist attacks, political unrest, and economic turmoil. Her brightest spark has always been Bali, but one little island in her collection of many, renowned for her natural beauty, world-class surf, unique culture and gracious and artistic people. Her other islands are probably still deeply embedded in people’s minds – most notably in the West – as exotic remote isles, home to a plethora of strange fauna and flora, head hunting tribes, and impenetrable jungles, where the wild roam free, and the birds of paradise decorate the skies. Sumatra and Java are probably better known as coffee variety, but they’re also two of the better known islands. The others, such as Borneo (Kalimantan in Indonesian); Celebes (Sulawesi in Indonesian); and Moluccas, are known as resource rich islands that gain Wall Street mention for all the oil, gas, timber and coal that oozes out of her soil. The latter, Moluccas, is known in history books as the original Spice Islands, a collection of small islands that have single-handedly changed the course of world history more than any since the Ancient Greek and Roman times.

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Tjong A Fie’s personal barber. Commissioned all the way from India.

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An old padlock spotted in Medan’s old city.

Some intriguing trivia that makes one ponder upon hearing it includes: The Dutch swapping Manhattan (yes, THAT Manhattan, the long swath that is now the defacto capital of the world) for the tiny island of Run in Banda Sea. This island measures a measly 3 km long and 1 km wide, and in the 17th century was so valued for her nutmeg and mace, a treasured commodity during the Discovery Age that was pioneered by the Portuguese.

We feel it’s important to provide a rather thorough backstory on Indonesia’s history, as this large country deserves to be mentioned in such light. Especially today, amid her economic growth, and growing importance as an emerging nation that is poised to take its place among the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) darlings of Wall Street. Today, Indonesia is a very different place, holding a bagful of hope from a land blessed with such beauty and richness. Tourism is one such hope, if managed properly could propel Indonesia into the world’s formidable travel destination, where sustainability and eco-tourism could potentially be the mainstay, and not an afterthought.

Which leads us back to the story, day one of our Sumatra Adventure. Bukit Lawang, 3 hours north of Medan, became our first choice of experiencing Sumatra, her wild side, to be exact. Home to the furry orange man of the forest – which is a direct translation of both Bahasa Indonesia and Malay, Orang Utan (Pongo Pygmaeus). Indonesia is one of only two countries on the planet (the other one is Malaysia) that has the Orang Utan. There are two species – Sumatran Orang Utan (Pongo Abelii) and Borneo Orang Utan (Pongo Pygmaeus).


Proud Mama Jackie and her offspring, gazing in contentment after finishing the “Nasi Goreng” (fried rice) she snatched from our group during lunch break. Coming in close proximity with Orang Utans in the wilds of a tropical rainforest is an unforgettable experience. [Photo: Max Hasan]

From our research we found that there were two main options of viewing Orang Utans. At the Bohorok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centrein Bukit Lawang, or in the wild. The Centre was established by Swiss Zoologists in 1973 as a place to rehabilitate orphaned orang utans and release them back to the wild, but since 1986 it has been declared closed to receiving new orang utans. We opted for the second – more exciting option – to see them in the wild, accessible only through a choice of 3- or 6-hour trek into the jungle with a professional guide.

Google rescue in the nick of time

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Instant buddies! Trekking into the thick jungle with total strangers means you become close friends in the first few hours of your trip. Our comical guide Thomas is on the right. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

My generation relied on information from books and libraries (if we were lucky to get our hands on them), while my son’s generation lives and breathes Google. Don’t get me wrong, I may be an old fart, but I Google too. The morning of our flight to Medan, we hadn’t found any reliable source for Bukit Lawang trek guides yet. But thanks to the wifi, iPad and Google, we searched for a guide and Thomas’ Jungle Tourspopped up on the first page of our google search. Clean, modern website, visually rich, with clear and updated information and plenty pictures of Orang Utans. Thomas knows Branding 101, no doubt! The email couldn’t be more appropriate – jungleman_thomas@yahoo.com. We were sold. We sent Thomas a brief email and SMS text message. It turned out to be the best decision, helping make this leg of our Sumatra Trip the most unforgettable.

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We team up with Dana, Tomer, and Laura, three adventure travelers from Montreal, and into the jungle we go. In the able hands of our jungle guide, Thomas. Photo: Dian Hasan]

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Bohorok River that flows through Bukit Lawang. The bridge in the background was donated by the Central Government following the 2003 big flood. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

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Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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The minaret at Medan’s Grand Mosque

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Medan’s Grand Mosque

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Art Deco in Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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Art Deco splendor. Kesawan Area, Medan.

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Medan’s unique motorbike-type pedicab

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Scenes of Old Medan.

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Hindu Temple, Medan

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Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Sultan Maimoon’s Palace, Medan

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Entrance to Sultan Maimoon’s Palace, Medan.

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Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Gate at Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Aryaduta Hotel, arguably Medan’s best 5-star hotel.

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Remnants of the past. Tip Top Restaurant (est. 1934), in operation since the Dutch Colonial era.

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Witness of a bye gone era. Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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The ornate ceiling decoration at the splendid Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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5 things I wish I knew before visiting Indonesia

Indonesia is a huge, mysterious archipelago of disparate islands and cultures. It is impossible to summarize. With over 238 million people, it is the 4th most populous nation on earth. Travel opportunities are many and various. Sparkling seas teeming with life, soaring volcanoes, never-ending coastline and cultural wonders all await the intrepid traveller.

1. Indonesia is more of a continent than a country

Indonesia is big. Very big. It covers a territorial area of over 5 million square kilometers. Look at it on the map and you will see that the distance between Banda in the west and Irian Jaya in the east makes it as wide as South East Asia itself. It is so big that any consideration of the land, the population, the geography, the marine life, the cuisine, the religious beliefs and the economy of Indonesia can only be done by first separating it into its regions.

2. The population is incredibly diverse

With a country so enormous, it is no wonder that there is a wide spread of people. However given the landmass is fragmented into so many islands, the diversity of the people should come as no great surprise. However, it is endlessly surprising. If you put into a room a typical Jakartan, a Bajau from Sulawesi, a Papuan and a Timorese you wouldn’t believe they all live under the one flag.

3. Some flavors may not be your cup of tea

Coffee and tea are big in Indonesia with some of the coffee from Java, Aceh and Sumatra gaining a reputation worldwide. Most unusual is probably the very expensive Kopi Luwak whose beans must go through the intestines of Asian Palm Civets to have removed the bitterness. From this faeces comes coffee that sells for a fortune in Europe and elsewhere. So ‘it’ not only happens. It sells.

4. At the heart of the world’s marine biodiversity

The coral triangle, the world’s most bio-diverse region of sea includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon islands, the East of Borneo and the Philippines. Mostly that means Indonesia. It is believed this is where life in the sea began. It is home to 76% of the world’s coral species , 37% of the world’s fish species and a high level of endemism. It is little wonder that so many places in Indonesia are of interest to conservationists and scuba divers alike; places such as Bali, Raja Ampat, Komodo and North Sulawesi.

5. The Spice Islands of Indonesia were once traded for New York

In 1667 the Treaty of Breda was signed, bringing an end to Dutch – English hostilities over the coveted Spice islands in Indonesia’s Banda Sea. It transpired to be a hugely significant moment in history, as the agreement was based around a property swap of the then English Run Island with the then Dutch New Amsterdam – Manhattan, New Jersey and Delaware Estuary. So New Amsterdam became New York.

Inspiration: World Nomads

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Surfing in Bali

Many die-hard surfers have a similar item on their bucket list: a chance to surf in Indo!! This comes as no surprise as Indonesia is the world’s largest Archipelago and it has more islands than any other country in the world.

Bali, Indonesia’s crown jewel travel destination, is an important part of the surfing scene. Although not home to the most challenging of waves, Bali has the whole package of sun, sea, sand, cuisine and culture. And when you throw in surfing for all levels, it makes it more complete still.

Here’s a look at surfing in Bali, courtesy of Best Destination TV Travel Guide.

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Filed under Adventure Travel, Bali, Cultural Tourism, Ecotourism, Indonesia, Unique Travel Destinations

Eco fans should head to Costa Rica!

By Helen Cross | December 14, 2010

Any true eco enthusiast should make Costa Rica the top of their travel wish list. One of the most ‘green’ countries in the world, Costa Rica has unparalleled eco credentials and is doing the upmost to protects its ‘rich coast’. This is a country that:

  • Was named the best country for eco-tours in Treehuggers ‘Best of Green’.
  • Is ranked 3rd in the world in the 2010 Environmental Protection Index
  • Aims to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021
  • Is ranked 1st in the Happy Planet Index.
  • Contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity
  • Has 25% of its land protected in National Parks

However, as with anything that makes money, the term ‘eco’ can be subject to abuse and has been used to justify charging inflated prices for underwhelming experiences. $50 eco walk anyone?! Here are the crème-de-la- crème of environmentally conscious activities in the country:

  • Ziplining and sky walks

The best way to get up close to the cloud forests of Costa Rica; ziplining provides an adrenaline fuelled trip through the canopy for those who wish to fly through the trees a la Tarzan whereas sky walks provide a more sedate experience from bridges suspended at dizzying heights.

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Bali Hotels hit by Eat Love Pray fever

By Dian Hasan | September 3, 2010

Eat Pray Love Vacation Package

The “Eat Pray Love” frenzy continues and for those who have been inspired to set off on their own soul-searching adventure in Bali’s Kamandalu Resort has come up with their own version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s story. The “Eat Pray Love” package starts with your choice of private luxury villa (Garden, Pool, or Deluxe Pool) and includes a variety of goodies all for both you and a guest including daily breakfast, cycling to see the Eat Pray Love movie sets in nearby Ubud, a romantic Italian dinner in the garden, 30 minute spa treatments for each of you, an outdoor activity of your choice (trekking, cycling, village or Royal Palace visit), and a trip to see Elizabeth Gilbert’s palm reader. Plus plenty of extras like bottled water in the room, comfy robes and slippers, transportation, and free drinks and coupons at the lounge.

The package is available from September 2010 thru July 2011 and sounds like a nice balance of experiencing the movie’s theme while still leaving room for a personalized experience, and if you were really inspired by the movie you can enter their contest and potentially win a trip for free. Otherwise there’s a minimum two night stay required with rates ranging from $280 – $440/night, depending on which villa you choose. Let yourself go!

Inspiration: Luxist and Unique Travel Destinations


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Green & Rustic | Veranda Natural Resort, Kep, Cambodia

By Dian Hasan | September 1, 2010

A high-end nature retreat on a quiet hillside location, mere minutes from the beach, the resort presents a unique concept with raised wooden walkways, stonewalls surrounding by stunning natural beauty, in Asia’s best-kept travel secret, Cambodia.

A nature lover’s retreat, Veranda Natural Resort is a 3-hectare compound with bungalows open-air veranda, luxury private rooms, restaurant, bar-cocktails, bakery & ice-cream and a boutique shop housing the accommodation.

This little hideaway invites you to relax and discover the untouched beauty of the surroundings and the extreme view of the Ocean, sunset and Bokor mountain. Bokor was popular Hill Station (elevation: 1,080 m) during the French occupation and reached its height in the 1920s.

Veranda comprises bungalows constructed of indigenous building material. All bungalows are linked with raised walkways that were built to keep the natural contour of the hotel site.

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Green & Chic | Boca de Iguanas, Costa Alegre, Manzanillo, Mexico

By Dian Hasan | August 31, 2010

Boca de Iguanas (Mouth of the Iguanas) boutique hotel is a small property that dazzles with a cool concept of rustic and eco-chic to create the perfect hideaway adventure.

The stylish 12-room retreat lies on an unspoiled beach along Mexico’s Costalegre, North of Manzanillo facing the Pacific ocean, offering the perfect modern and rustic blend inspired by the magical natural surroundings of this ecologically sound development. Rooms feature bedspreads and pillows with bold, geometric prints, plush bathrobes and extra large bath sheets, air conditioning and overhead fans. But reminders of Mother Nature are everywhere: handcarved tree trunk tables, baskets woven from coconut palm husks, all natural soaps and shampoos, and indoor/outdoor living spaces that surprise and amaze.

Room names reflect nature, as well as their unique differences: “Selva Suite” (meaning jungle) features an outdoor soaking Jacuzzi tub hidden along the edge of the mangrove estuary, and “Palmas” overlooks a stand of coconut palms. Guests in “Agua” luxuriate in an oversized Jacuzzi tub, while “Noche” invites guests to climb a spiral wooden staircase to a terrace and bed under an awning of celestial stars by night, or an incredible blue sky during the day.

Found on secluded bay along Mexico’s Costalegre just 40 minutes north of Manzanillo International Airport (ZLO), Boca de Iguanas Beach Hotel offers rustic but luxurious and stylish accommodations that deliver an ultra-chic vacation in a pristine ecological setting – with equal portions of stimulation and relaxation.

An adventure activity menu includes an onsite 50-foot high natural rappeling wall, ocean kayaking, birdwatching and jungle hiking. The beach club restaurant offers a healthy and tasty menu featuring the freshest local ingredients.

Boca de Iguanas takes its eco-responsibility seriously, and separates them into the following three related areas:

To maximize on the “greenness” of the community, Boca de Iguanas uses its own solar power array for supplemental electricity as well as solar hot water, and plumbing connects to community gray water recycling system, and sewage treatment plant.

Biologists oversee the mangrove conservation efforts and patrol the beach for the seasonal turtle camp. Habitat is created for the local iguana and tropical bird populations and a community wide recycling program are ways we integrate the development into nature.

Natural surroundings are kept in a largely untouched state, juxtaposing the striking ocean and tranquil beach with a mangrove ecosystem that will also provide a backdrop to many of the development’s eco-focused lifestyle. Cars will not be allowed: a covered parking area is located at the entrance of the development. Walking & jogging paths encourage a healthy lifestyle, and electric carts will deliver owners right to their front doors.

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Green & Chic | Kahanda Kanda, Galle, Sri Lanka

Kahanda Kanda, among Sri Lanka’s newest boutique hotels, offers the indulgent luxuries of a private villa with the service of a five star hotel, and is situated near the southern coast not far from Galle. Five air conditioned suites with breathtaking panoramic views of palm fringed jungle and the Indian Ocean promise stylish, spacious interiors, ideal in which to unwind – the perfect example of getaway boutique hotels.

Overlooking Koggala Lake and surrounded by the lush greenery of a working tea estate, my home turned award winning boutique hotel offers discerning travellers a unique wellness escape with quick access by charming tuk tuk to timeless treasures inside Galle Fort as well as some of the world’s best beaches, for which Galle and Sri Lanka are so well known.

Peaceful, tropical ambience, world class heartfelt service and fresh fusion cuisine that lures guests from surrounding hotels in and around Galle, Kahanda Kanda is an idyllic environment for a wedding, a honeymoon or a holiday of absolute relaxation, all on a working tea plantation.

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Green & Chic | Raas Haveli, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

By Dian Hasan | August 31, 2010

Some of Asia’s most historically impressive destinations (save Bali, Bangkok, Luang Prabang & Kyoto) have often lacked accommodation that matched the magic of the place. The choices were mostly limited by large and unimaginative chain hotels, or a coterie of humble abodes for the backpacking crowd. And nothing really in between – a stylish small and personal hotel that breathes and oozes the place. Personality was missing big time. Such condition afflicted Jodhpur, Rajasthan, one of India’s most alluring destinations!

As the Indian economy continues to forge ahead, minting a new monied crowd with a lifestyle appetite to explore the continent’s diverse offerings, tagging with it an international clientele that seeks the chic and hip. The right hotels are coming on stream. Raas Haveli is one such fine pedigree! The age of the Boutique Hotel has arrived!

Situated at the foot of the mighty Meherangarh Fort, in the heart of Jodhpur’s Walled City. It is the only luxury hotel to be based in the old town, and the views directly up to the fort, which looms above you, are quite spectacular. It is situated in the prestigious north-eastern quarter of the Walled City, just a stone’s throw from the Clock Tower. One may simply wonder out into the surrounding maze of streets to explore the markets. The hotel comprises four charming 150-year old restored buildings in Jodhpur’s very own ‘rose-red’ sandstone.

This is combined with stylish, contemporary new buildings which have been designed by an acclaimed architect. In its entirety the Ras Haveli (as it was originally called) remains today the best preserved, largest and most complete urban noble residence perhaps in all Rajasthan. This exquisite little hotel is Jodhpur’s first eco friendly boutique hotel in the true sense of the term.

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