IT'S a truly majestic 18th century palace, ironically flanked by a modern-day 500,000-litre water tank. If you ignore this brick-and-mortar monstrosity, the Darbargadh in Morbi—a bustling 800-year-old trading outpost for some 230 villages in western Gujarat—is a revelation: fine ashlar masonry—masonry of hewed or square stone—on handsome yellow sandstone where strains of neo-Gothic and Graeco-Roman styles clash happily in a high noon of eclecticism in architecture. Look down from the palace and you see indelible signs of European city planning: a straight processional road flanked by what used to be a pretty, 120-year-old, low-slung bazaar of 300 shops with semi-circular arches. Walk down the road and you reach a town-gate tower, the cast-iron for which was shipped in from Birmingham. With its crescent-shaped boundary and low buildings, mostly two-storey with colonnaded pillars, Morbi looks like a dusty, frayed, tropical echo of a 'classical' English town like Bath.
But all that was largely before the fateful January 26 earthquake that flattened most of the historic town of 150,000 people and left 250 of them dead. Glorious history has now become depressing detritus. The palace is badly damaged and out-of-bounds, with the debris spilling out on a narrow town roundabout. A 134-year-old, red-tiled girls school, the first in Morbi, opposite the palace has crumbled. The famous 72-year-old Manimandir, a great specimen of 19th century regional style with a perambulatory path, carved timber pieces and red-tiled roof built at a cost of Rs 100,000, has been damaged. The historic bazaar, which the king rented out to traders for a rupee a shop, looks carpet-bombed. "I am numbed by the sight," says Delhi-based architect Hemen Sanghvi, who's returned to his quake-ravaged hometown to explore the damage. "I can't relate to Morbi any longer."