The Gurkha lore is a British creation. It was no invention but borne out of the respect for their bravery that was vouchsafed by no less a person than Gen. David Ochterlony in his dispatches from the front in 1814. The story of the Anglo-Nepal War 1814-16 is well-documented by John Pemble (The Invasion of Nepal: John Company at War, London, 1971). A hundred years later, Sir Lain Hamilton noted that “each little G urkha might be worth his full weight in gold at Gallipoli” (Gallipoli Diary 1915, London, 1930). The best eulogy to the Gurkhas, however, is to be found not in a historical account, but a dictionary preface by Sir Ralph Turner, “As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal… Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.” (A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language, London, 1931.)
The first account about the Gurkhas was published by Brian H. Hodgson who advocated their recruitment in the British service as a strategy to curb Nepal’s military adventures. His 8-page essay “Origin and Classification of the Military Tribes of Nepal” appeared in Journal of the Bengal Asia Society, Vol. II 1833 (Calcutta). Fifty years later, Major E.R. Elles wrote A Report on Nepal (1883) that was to form the basis of the numerous editions of Gurkha handbooks for the Indian Army series.
Recruitment of Gurkhas in the British Indian Army was formalised in 1886. A decade later Elles’ report was expanded into a new edition by Maj. Newhan-Davis and Eden Vansittart. The third incarnation of the Gurkha handbook prepared by Eden Vansittart and revised by B.U. Nicolay appeared in 1915, and was reprinted in 1918. The book includes the first administrative map of Nepal showing tribal areas for recruitment. The Gurkha handbook was further revised by C.J. Morris in 1933 and 1936 with 7 appendices including details of recruitment from 1886 to 1934-35. The last incarnation of the Gurkha handbook was prepared by R.G. Leonard as Nepal and the Gorkhas (London, 1965). The book’s bibliography on Nepal has only 27 items (the latest reference dated was 1956) although Hugh B. Wood’s Nepal Bibliography (1959) already had a long list running to 103 pages.
One interesting reference to the Gurkhas in the last century is to be found in Lord Martin Conway’s The Alps From End to End (London, 1895), describing the exploits of Harkabir Thapa and Karbir Burathoki, who crossed 39 passes and climbed 21 peaks in 86 days of Alpine traverse. Further accounts of Gurkhas as mountain climbers are to be found in Twenty Years in the Himalaya (London, 1910) and Himalayan Wanderer (London, 1934) by Charles G. Bruce and Abode of Snow (London, 1955) by Kenneth Mason.
Mountaineering was only a peace-time diversion.(see page 35). The Gurkhas were mostly in the thick of the war, be it imperial expansion on the frontiers of India or global conflict. The First World War involved 200,000 men from Nepal. After the Great War, the Gurkha handbook went through three revised editions. There were also two other books: The Gurkhas, Their Manners Customs and Country by W. Brook Northey & C. John Morris (London, 1928) and The Martial Races of India by Sir George MacMunn (London, 1932). One good descriptive account of the Gurkhas and their country is to be found in Gorkha: The Story of the Gurkhas of Nepal by Sir Francis Tuker (London, 1957).
There have been numerous books on the Gurkhas after the Second World War, particularly since the Malaysian campaign and the British confrontation with Indonesia. One was before the Gurkha regiments were split into India Gorkha Rifles and British Brigade of Gurkhas: The Gurkha Soldier by H.R.K. Gibbs (Calcutta, 1947). Most deal with the exploits of the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British Army. A.E.C. Bredin’s The Happy Warriors (London, 1961) deals with the 1/6 GR during the Malayan emergency while Duncan Forbes in Johnny Gurkha (London, 1964) attempts a wider coverage.
A comprehensive account with a historical sweep is provided in The Gurkhas by Harold James and Denis Sheil-Small (London, 1965). Other interesting books are Gurkhas: Pagent of History by David Bolt (London, 1967), Britain’s Brigade of Gurkhas by E.D. Smith (London, 1973) and Better to Die: The Story of the Gurkhas by Edward Bishop (London, 1976).
Some books provide more insight to the life of Gurkha soldiers. This is best represented by novelist John Masters in Bugles and Tigers and The Road to Mandalay. Hired to Kill : Some Chapters of Autobiography (London, 1960) .by John Morris is an interesting account including reference to homosexual relations between the Sahib and the Sipahi: Ayo Gurkha by J.M. Marks (London, 1971) is an imaginative account of a Limbu soldier from boyhood to retirement. His Aitahang Limbu may be considered a modern version of Scottish and Irish mercenaries epitomised in Quentin Durward by Sir Walter Scott. One may also refer to a native effort in similar vein: Come Tomorrow by Mani Dixit (Kathmandu, 1980) is about three generations of soldiers. Finally, one should refer to The Mountain Kingdom: Portraits of Nepal and the Gurkhas by B.M. Niven (Singapore, 1987). It is a quarto volume with evocative photographs and lucid text about the Gurkha heartland.
Gurung is a geographer.