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Gurkhas

Ghurkas

Gurkhas (or Gurkhalis) are Nepalese people traditionally known as tough, devoted, keen and never surrendering fighters. Their motto is “It’s better to die than to live as a coward”. They have always been harsh and scary enemies for all opponents that stood against them including British, Germans or Japanese.

Origins

On the slopes of the highest mountain range in the world there was a small Kingdom of Gorkhasthan. The country, its people and its capital Gorkha was named after medieval Hindu Guru Goraknath. Gorkha city became a base for military expansions of Gurkhas and their very skilful soldiers later conquered area of all present Nepal (Gorkhastan was renamed to Nepal in 20th century).

In 1814 British units invaded Gorkhasthan with intentions to join it to their colonial empire. However, UK units were unsuccessful and Nepal remained one of the few Asian countries who kept their sovereignty. British who were outnumbering Gurkhas were impressed by a bravery and persistence of the local tribes. They soon found out it could be beneficial to have them on their side. After the war they offered them military carriers in British army and founded independent division called The Brigade of Gurkha.

When India declared its independence in 1947 some of Gurkha troops were transferred under Indian military forces. Many young Nepalese men are applying to these elite units today. It is high prestige career and the service is adequately well paid. For some of them it is also an alternative solution for unemployment because the situation on local labour market is very difficult in this developing country. Every year there are thousands or even tens of thousands of applicants but only hundreds are eventually recruited. Most of them serve in the rifle regiments but other kinds of units exist as well.

Kukri

Gurkha soldiers carry their typical knife called kukri (or khukuri). Being outstanding chopping knife it is both useful tool and deadly weapon which local people have been using for 2,000 years. As Nepalese traditional knives we could see two kukris displayed on former national emblem (changed when communists took power in 2008). It is slightly similar to a machete. The knife is featured with a very sharp inward curved blade wider in the front. The blade is usually 25-30 cm long, but there are many sizes variations and ritual kukri can be more than a half meter long.

The knife has keratin, wooden or brass handle. Kukri is traditionally carried in belted scabbard together with two little accessories. Karda – a small knife for more precise not-chopping work and chakmak – a sharpening steel to keep kukri polished and top sharp. Massive (weight about 1 kg) polished steel blade may have one or more fullers. Characteristic for kukri knives is their notch right next to the handle. It is called cho and it is a religious symbol (representing Trishula - the trident of Shiva) which can have many purposes. The main function is probably a blood dropper avoiding the opponents’ blood to get on the knife’s holder. Kukri is a very strong and dangerous weapon able to chop a head off with one powerful strike. Some other purposes of the notch are still mystery. Some legend says that once a soldier drawn kukri out of its scabbard he had to “feed it” with blood. Otherwise he would have upset the gods. So if no blood spilling occurred, the fighter was at least supposed to cut his hand which he did with the notch.

War cry

Another thing distinctive for Gurkhas is their war cry “Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali” meaning Glory to Great Kali, Gorkhas approach. These sinister words are scaring their enemies today same as they did 200 years ago. They know Gurkhas never surrender. There have been many cases of soldiers refusing to obey or running away after meeting them.These special trained tough men fight with maximal verve and they are ready to die, if necessary. They frequently stand in front lines and participate in the most challenging missions. Both British and Indian units have taken part in a lot of decisive war conflicts, namely in Burma, Syria, India, Malaysia, China or Cyprus. Today these rough guys can be found doing their duties in Iraq, Afghanistan or Balkan.

Periods: Knife

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