The Gurkhas are from Nepal, a country in the Himalayas
with one of the toughest climates in the world.
They are unique in that their chief fame comes from their service as Hired Guns
rather than for their own country. They came to English attention in a war between the East India Company
and the King of Nepal. As part of the peace treaty the Company demanded permission to recruit from Nepali for, in a fashion reminiscent of John Wayne
, the Company had liked the Gurkhas so much as enemies
that they couldn't wait to have them as allies. The Gurkhas were recruited mostly from the Mager, Gurang, Limbu, and Rai tribes. Other tribes have occasionally joined, especially when manpower is desperately needed like in World War II
. Curiously, the Sherpas, which are the most famous tribe in the area, have not been well represented: perhaps it's enough work getting rich glory hounds
up Mount Everest. Another interesting curiosity is that only one regiment (9th Gurkha rifles) of Gurkhas is made up of the Kshatriya (warrior) caste. Most are Vaisha's (peasants), though such things were apparently not taken as seriously in the mountains as they have sometimes been in the valley.
Gurkhas are famous for their curious boomerang shaped Kukri
knives, which serves as a sort of machete. Much of their prowess comes from the poverty and hardship of their homes, which is so tough that it provides its own Spartan Way
. Military service for a richer country not only brings reputation
but is also very attractive for material reasons, what with pay, as well as the inoculation and technical training that necessarily comes with the service. As a result, employers can afford to be extremely selective about whom they pick. Gurkhas serve mostly as infantry and though experiments have been made using them in other specialties, that is where their chief fame has been won. Like many a local ethnic group, their loyalty has been reinforced by the British regimental system in which each regiment is effectively a warrior-fraternity
and the parochial eccentricities of each allow local traditions to be made an asset to the service of The Government
. The Gurkhas have had many a Crowning Moment Of Awesome
and are among the worlds most highly regarded military forces. And ever since the Victoria Cross became open to non-British they have had a disproportionate representation.
Gurkhas until the 2000s have seldom been officers and usually served in units with white officers. This was partly because of prejudice held by the British that Gurkhas were fine soldiers, but too ineducable to make good officers. Another reason was that the original Indian army was at least partly and often a very large part, a constabulary to prevent revolt and therefore the upper caste had to pull the strings. Despite that, relations have usually been fairly good between British and Gurkhas, arguably better than the British deserved. Perhaps it's simply that all soldiers live in a caste system while they serve and for the Gurkhas it more or less ended when they went home as far as British were concerned. And maybe British were nicer then their Feudal Overlord
back home. Also the quality of leadership may have been better; British officers in Gurkha regiments were specially picked. In any case that has changed of late and there have been a number of Gurkha officers.
After independence the Gurkha regiments were divided
between the British and the new Indian army (really the army of The Raj
changing employers), by election of the soldiers as agreed in the treaty. Some continued in British service and others served the Indian government. They proved valuable in the little wars of colonial devolution
and the Cold War
, as well as the wars on the Indian border with Pakistan and China. They continue to serve to the present day. Following the dissolution of the Nepalese monarchy in 2008, however, Nepalese government announced that continued service of Nepalese citizens in other countries' military will be curtailed in the future, putting in doubt the prospects for continued existence of British and, to a lesser extent, Indian Gurkha troops (some Indian Gurkha troops are recruited from India's own Nepalese minority).
Singapore also uses Gurkhas as police.
Go on, tell him◊
you won’t pay your parking ticket. I dare you. And yes, he is wearing a kukri on his belt◊
- Badass Army
- Former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army Sam Manekshaw said it best:
"If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."
- Badass Adorable: The common stereotype.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Gurkhas are famous for their friendliness.
- Those who had the honour to serve with them can vouch for that.
- Big Brother Mentor: Britain and later India as well.
- Brits with Battleships
- By-the-Book Cop:
- During the riots following the Indian Partition when Hindus and Muslims were having a collective Ax-Crazy moment of Rape, Pillage, and Burn on each other, the Gurkhas were the only non-British who could be trusted with arms. They faithfully helped escort fleeing refugees with laudable bravery and impartiality.
- The tale is told of a Gurkha sentry posted along the Suez Canal during World War One and told to let no one pass. When a British battleship came chugging up the canal, the sentry followed his orders to the letter; he aimed his rifle at the officer on the bridge and ordered him to halt the ship. Yes, that's right, a Gurkha sentry stopped a battleship with a bolt-action rifle.
- Determined Homesteader: Who make homesteads in the Himalayas no less.
- The Dreaded: There are various occasions when enemies who were quite happy to fight normal soldiers fleeing when they heard they would be facing Gurkhas. See Shrouded in Myth below for other examples.
- Basically, if the Taliban, who are known for suicide attacks, are terrified of you, you know you're pretty scary.
- On the flipside, if you get told that Gurkhas are coming as reinforcements on your side, it's one of the most relieving pieces of news you're likely to ever hear in your life.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Subverted notably. Gurkha non-coms are tough but not tyrannical and prefer to act as a big-brother to their men.
- Fire-Forged Friends/Defeat Means Friendship: How the British got the idea of recruiting Gurkhas.
- Not the only time they did that. Some of the best units in the British military's history have been those that actually beat them in battles. The Scots are an early example.
- The 9th Border Regiment, George MacDonald Fraser's battalion during WWII, was nicknamed "The White Gurkhas".
- Grin of Audacity: During the retreat from Burma, then-Lt. Gen. Bill Slim found himself under Japanese fire within sight of a Gurkha unit (the same one he had commanded a few years before). He writes:
"My inclination to run for cover, not lessened by a salvo of mortar bombs that came down behind me, was only restrained by the thought of what a figure the Corps Commander would cut, sprinting for safety, in front of all these little men. So, not liking it a bit, I continued to walk forward. Then, from behind a bush that offered scant cover to his bulky figure, rose my old friend, the Subadar Major of the 7th Gurkhas, his face creased in a huge grin which almost hid his twinkling almond eyes. He stood there and shook with laughter at me. I asked him coldly what he was laughing at, and he replied that it was very funny to see the General Sahib wandering along there by himself not knowing what to do! And, by Jove, he was right; I did not!
It is a funny thing how differently the various races react to such a situation
. A British soldier would have called out to me to take shelter and would have made room for me beside him. The average Indian sepoy would have watched anxiously, but said nothing unless I was hit, when he would have leapt forward and risked his life to get me under cover. A Sikh would have sprung up, and with the utmost gallantry dramatically covered me with his own body, thrilled at the chance of an audience. Only a Gurkha would stand up and laugh."
- Had To Be Sharp: Growing up in the Himalayas. One reason they were so valued as soldiers.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Gurkhas and Scottish Highland regiments have had a traditional friendship. Once when there was an earthquake in Nepal it was the Scots who raised the money for the relief. It's also worth noting that the Royal Gurkha Rifles are the only non-Scottish line infantry regiment in the British Army to have regimental pipes and drums.
- Hired Guns
- Improvised Weapon User: Dipprasad Pun, the Gurkha corporal famed for singlehandedly killing thirty Taliban, actually ran out of ammunition for his machinegun, but instead of giving up he just started cracking heads with the bipod. Which, when folded. is a 30lb hunk of metal.
- Indians with Iglas
- Kukris Are Kool: These are the "Nasty Knives" of the Nepali.
- Mountain Man: From the ultimate mountains.
- Nice Hat: Gurkhas traditionally wear the Terai hat, a variant of the Australian-style bush-hat that is made by stuffing one hat inside the other, making it rigid. It is worn sharply tilted.
- Nightmare Fuel: A tactic of the Gurkhas during World War II was to sneak into German encampments, kill all the men in their sleep except for one, and then leave him alive to tell his superiors about it (one writer credited that to the Goums, a similar group in French service. Another account holds that the Maoris, in New Zealand service, did something similar.).
- One-Man Army: In World War II the Gurkha soldier, Lachhiman Gurung, ranked up a bodycount of 31 Japanese soldiers in one battle, and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts. In the Afghanistan war against the Taliban, another Gurkha soldier single-handedly killed 30 Taliban warriors. The British command's commented the latter instance that "anyone who think they can take down one Gurkha with only 30 men are foolish."
- Panthera Awesome : One Gurkha coming home from the wars was crossing a Rope Bridge. When he reached the end, a snow leopard attacked him. The Gurkha slew it with his Kukri, skinned it, and carried its skin home on his back.
- Which was a great confrontation between two of the most awesome killer beasts on Earth. Leopard versus Gurkha.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: The Gurkhas are relatively small in stature, at least compared to the rest of the British forces.
- Praetorian Guard: When he was serving in Afghanistan, Prince Harry of Wales was fighting alongside the Gurkhas. Allegedly, he was deliberately placed with the Gurkhas because the Taliban are absolutely terrified of them.
- With good reason.
- The Taliban—and Pashtuns in general—absolutely hate Gurkhas, who did very well out of the Raj while the Pashtuns did not. To this day Gurkas have a very short life expectancy if captured by troops of the Frontier Force, Pakistan's Pashtun regiment. It's not entirely without precedent among Pashtuns:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
- Proud Warrior Race
- The Raj
- Retired Badass: Bishnu Shrestha was a retired corporal returning home by train when it was attacked by 40 bandits. When some of the bandits tried to rape a teenage girl, Shrestha pulled out his Khukuri blade and curb-stomped half the bandits, killing three and sending the rest fleeing for their lives. The Indian military un-retired him long enough to award him medals and a higher rank.
- Screaming Warrior: Aiyo Gurkali, or more specifically,Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gurkhali, which means "Glory to Great Kali, the Gurkhas are coming!"
- Their enemies tend to respond with—in their respective tongues, and adjusted for culture—"Oh Crap!"
- And Kali is the Hindu goddess of death...
- Shrouded in Myth: The Gurkhas frightened away the Argentines during the Falklands War by sheer reputation. Some in the Taliban believe that they are demons who eat their victims. The Gurkhas do nothing to dispel these myths.
- Given that one of them fought off thirty Taliban fighters, it can be said that they do even less than nothing to dissuade said myths.
- The Japanese during the Second World War also had a tendency for their own "implacable warrior" image to crack when there were rumors of Gurkhas about—largely because Japanese sentries would be discovered in the morning outside their camps missing their heads...
- Countries that have detailed and accurate information on the Gurkhas feel a tingle of dread when facing them. Imagine then what you feel if all you know about them is the myth!
- The Shangri-La
- What the Hell, Hero?: The Amritsar Massacre where the Gurkhas fired on some demonstrators at a town by that name because they were Just Following Orders. What may be worse from one perspective (because there was no more fear that it might be a riot and thus it was For the Evulz), the commander spent a week doing such things as forcing locals to lick the blood up with their tongues. Fortunately that commander was at least Reassigned to Antarctica for it. But it was a nasty business and a stain on the Gurkhas' otherwise splendid record.
- The Women Are Safe With Us : One British officer led the storming of a stronghold held by dacoits (roughly, India's Thieves' Guild) and was proud to note that not one woman had been harmed.
- Working for a Body Upgrade: One of the incentives for Gurkhas to join the British army is the vaccinations against lethal diseases we in the West take for granted; smallpox, mumps, measles, diphteria, tetanus, polio, etc.