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    WITH all the art that is packed into some of our star hotels these days, a tour of the lobby and gift shop alone constitutes as a cultural break for many busy guests. And that is why Captivating Chennai is being introduced at the Taj Coromandel – luring people out of their hotel and conference rooms for a singular experience. Curated by Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries for the hotel on Nungambakkam High Road, there are six delightful tours that lead participants to some of the city’s best kept secrets. You are welcomed into the studios and living rooms of contemporary artists and collectors, and guided through both iconic or less publicised pockets of our city. The tour ends with a thali lunch or dinner at the memorable Southern Spice at the hotel, a culinary adventure you wouldn’t want to miss.
    Fabric of life
    Part of the Modern Madras package is a dialogue with a leading artist like N Ramachandran at his studio in Injam-bakkam, where he will share his thought process and views on art. George K, known for his life-size, vivid fibre glass sculptures, is also onboard. At collectors’ homes, view a Sabawala or Raza up close, and for the full impact, drop by Apparao Galleries. Your guides, the well-informed Shreya Nagarajan and Sita Mahan, promise a seamless cultural outing, and will take care of all the coordinating for you – a luxury, we think. Our favourite tour, Warp and Weft, includes a visit to the Kalakshetra weaving centre. Despite only two of the 14 looms being used, interacting with the weavers, the dyers and Kalamkari printers, identifying the many seeds in bottles (for dyes) and some therapeutic shopping at the little store makes for a pleasurable half day. Later on, there is a visit to the eclectic sari destination, Sundari Silks, for some heavy-duty purchases. Another address that will elicit awe is Vastrakala in Alwarpet, the atelier of French embroiderer, Jean Francois Lesage. As his team quietly embroider complex panels for clients like the Opera House Monaco, or shoe god Christian Louboutin and Hermes, you wonder if you are being intrusive. Malavika Shivakumar, managing director, Vastrakala, points out that our appreciation is priceless to the humble craftsmen bent over their work.
    Stuccos and Tanjore art
    There is the Classic Route, that includes Kalakshetra’s dance classes, and Old Madras, highlighting the temples, churches and bylanes of Mylapore. But no old-world tour is complete without visiting collector Lily Vijayaraghavan’s home, showcasing decorative art objects – from priceless wood and stone carvings to stuccos of sensuous women, Tanjore and Mysore paintings, even intricately designed metal foot scrapers, ivory back scratchers and perfume vials. Vijayaraghavan’s fascinating anecdotes from her treasure hunts in Kerala, Madurai, Karaikudi and Rajasthan, add to the charm.
    The tours are priced at `4,000 (per person) and `6,000 (couple), with group rates too. Arranged at a day’s notice. Details: 66002827
    — Rosella Stephen

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