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. In fact, the Gurkhas were so well-regarded as warriors that the British gave them the honor of being addressed as "rifleman" rather than the local rank of "sepoy", indicating that the British considered the Gurkhas peers on the battlefield.
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.
They built their reputation as infantry soldiers, though Gurkhas also serve in support arms as engineers, logistics specialists, communications specialists. 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 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. Indeed, there is a saying, "When a soldier says they are not afraid to die; they are either lying, or is a Gurkha."
Gurkha units are unusual within the British Army as the usual class distinctions between officers and enlisted soldiers are blurred. Due to Gurkhas traveling far from home and away from their familial support networks, British officers often act like older male relatives, so much so that a regimental commander won't think twice to open his home to a private. Also, due to cultural differences, recruit training for Gurkhas doesn't include any screaming or berating as they are behaviors the recruits are unfamiliar with. Instead, recruits are dealt with firmly, but politely, with the occasional stern talking-to to maintain discipline.
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 in 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 than 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, with several rising up through the ranks to command battalions although none have yet achieved regimental command.
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 (where they use the "Gorkha" spelling). 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).
Nepali Army in fiction:
- Appear in Far Cry 4. They are the main enemies.
- One Gurkha makes two appearances on NCIS: Los Angeles and makes friends with Deeks.
- A Ghurka known as Naib Subedar appears as a playable character in Identity V.
- In The Man Who Would Be King the interpreter that the two protagonists engage when they reach Kafiristan is a Gurkha. True to form, at the end he dies charging into a lynching mob wielding his kukri, instead of taking the chance to flee unscathed.
- Commandos 2: Men of Courage has a mission set in Burma, where the protagonists (a unit of British Commandos) have to find the hideout of a squad of Ghurkas, then bring them weapon, and eventually use them to ambush the local Japanese-oriented ruler and his Imperial Japanese Army escort.
- Love of Magic: Camelot uses Gurkha mercenaries as one of their guard units, and their loyalty to Emily is a key element of her reclaiming her throne.