The Gurkhas Approach – A Military History

The Gurkhas are soldiers from the native country of Nepal; the term originates from an old hill town/district known as Gorkha. Traditionally Gurkhas were recruited from Nepali hill areas, but do not hail from an individual group or region.

A Brief History

A soldier of 246 Gurkha Squadron looks on at a parade in York after marching through the streets of the City.

Gurkhas come from a deep line of family lineage, ranging back to a time when the Nepalese people were divided into castes. The majority of their warrior castes, the Gurungs, Magars, Rais and Limbus, have supplied young soldiers for centuries.

The British army recruiting men from the country of Nepal has an origin dating back nearly 200 years. During the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-16 the ferocity and bravery of the Gurkhas impressed the British East India Company so much they offered to recruit them. This formed the first Gurkha Brigade and began their service to the British Crown.

For the Nepali people becoming a Gurkha holds high honour to their family and for a long time until recently was the best way of providing support to their families financially. The journey to become a Gurkha is one of hardship; they choose to train for a year, often without any financial reward, just to prepare for the trials alone. This can create a great level of pressure on each individual and considering the applicant age ranges from 17-21 is testament to the dedication and resolve of them as young adults.

The Gurkha Trials

Gurkhas from C Company 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles negotiate a wall during a mission from Patrol Base 2 in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province. The patrol was conducted with soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) during Operation Moshtarak.

The selection process to become a serving member for the Brigade of Gurkhas takes place in Pokhara in the Himalayas and is full of punishing trials. This process sees recruits undergo various mental and physical tests – including the infamous five-kilometre Doko race. A five kilometre race may not sound too daunting at first, but with the added pressure of carrying 25kg bags of sand in a wicker basket on your back whilst running up a rocky, dusty mountain in under 48 minutes it really defines what makes the Gurkhas so tough. From the last 7,865 Nepalese applicants only 500 made it through to the final two weeks of testing, where 230 were successful and inducted into the British Army.

Former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw has been quoted as saying this about the Gurkhas ‘’If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha’’. Serving Gurkhas are renowned for joining the full 22 years of service, committing a substantial amount of their lifetime to the Forces. Two centuries later the Gurkhas are still one of the fiercest additions of the British Military, their duty and bravery will be a well greeted ally for years to come.


If you want to find out more about the Gurkhas and their history, visit the Gurkha Welfare Trust website.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.


Want to find out more about our Military Kit Insurance?

More details