Gurkhas

EXCLUSIVE: Biggest Number Of Gurkhas Joining The Army In 30 Years

Five hundred and eighty Nepalese men dreaming of becoming Gurkhas faced their final assessment in Pokhara, Nepal.

Selection for the Gurkha intake of 2019 has just been completed in Nepal – and it is bigger than ever, with the largest number of Nepalese recruits joining the British Army since 1985.

Having completed the first gruelling stage of selection in their respective regions back in September, 580 of the initial 10,000 applicants were invited to return to Pokhara for the final assessment.

The British Army has just agreed to a significant increase in the numbers of recruits to be selected. 

Instead of the initial 320, already the biggest intake in 33 years, the Gurkha Company can now take over 400.

This comes following a stark decrease in the number of people recruited by the British Army in the UK.

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Pokhara, located in central Nepal, is known as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a trail in the Himalayas.

Hundreds of hopeful young men dreaming of a career in the UK had their chance to prove their skills and endurance.

The final assessment consists of various tests, including sit-ups, pull-ups, jerry cans and power bags.

If the potential recruits fail any of them, they are asked to leave immediately.

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Potential recruits are in charge of taking care of their own kit during the assessment.

Perhaps the most feared part of the final Gurkha selection is the infamous doko race.

The race involves running up a mountain in the Himalayan foothills with 25 kilos of sand in a basket.

The basket is then strapped around the forehead and potential recruits must run with it 5km uphill.

The day before the race, the sand is meticulously weighed and the doko baskets are carefully laid out. Each young man is in charge of preparing and caring for their own basket.

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In case of rain, a sleeve of plastic is placed on a blanket used to protect the racers' backs.

"It is our identity as Gurkha," explains Captain (Ret'd) Ganesh Rai.

"The paras have their test, we have ours. It’s special."

The doko race was only introduced in 1989. Before that, most of the young men grew up in the mountains and did this daily – there was no need for a test.

For those unfamiliar with a doko, even getting it on is a challenge.

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Potential recruits are expected to complete the course in just 46 minutes.

At 05.45 in the morning, just as there is enough light in the sky, the potential recruits leave camp, gather their doko baskets and the race begins. 

"Never look up," explains Captain (Ret'd) Hari Prasad Rai, as that would result in the doko basket dragging the runner to the ground.

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If they fail to pass the doko race, potential recruits have to leave immediately.

Despite the uneven surface, rain and the heavy doko, the potential recruits are expected to complete the course in just 46 minutes.

If they fail to do so, it is the end of their Gurkha selection process and they have to leave immediately.

When they reach the top, a well-earned breakfast awaits. All that remains is a short interview and then the painful wait to find out if they have been selected as one of the British Army's newest trainee Gurkhas. 

The Big Day

Having completed the final stages of selection in Pokhara, it's finally time for the applicants from Western Nepal to find out whether or not they've made it. 

The night before the results are announced, the recruiting staff encourage the potential recruits to put on a show to ease the nerves.

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Potential new recruits put on a show the night before results day.

The following day, the potential recruits must say their goodbyes.

If unsuccessful, the young men are unlikely to see their newfound friends again, and many will be heading home.

Because of the importance of the decision in the lives of these young men, our cameras are not allowed in the room where they will be given their verdict.

After being told by Major Sandy Nightingale whether they have been enlisted, a senior recruiting assistant known as a 'Gollowolla' directs candidates in the right direction.

Unsuccessful applicants are sent through the door on the left. They collect their travel expenses and recieve some feedback on why they were not selected. Successful candidates leave through the door on the right and sprint upstairs before anyone can change their mind!

"The stair is the barrier," explains Major Nightingale. 

"As soon as they're up the stairs, they are no longer my responsibility and they're handed over to ITC Catterick."

For those who were unsuccessful, there is always next year, if they are still under 21 and can afford to make this journey again.

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Unsuccessful candidates leave the Pokhara centre.

For the successful new recruits, it is a different story. 

When asked how he feels upon passing the entrance tests, Training Rifleman Surya Bahadur Shrees is in disbelief.

"It is the best moment of my life."

Training Rifleman Kapiel Pradhan is in tears after receiving the news that, on his second attempt, he has passed all the tests and earned himself a place in the British Army.

"It's my dream come true."

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Training Rifleman Yogesh Shrees.

Everything will change from this day for the new recruits.

"It's a big day for them, and it's a challenge for us as well," says Sergeant Suman Ale, an instructor at Gurkha Company in Catterick.

The first thing the young men are allowed to do after being told they have been recruited is to phone home.

"There’s a lot of corruption in Nepal so the recruits are allowed a phone call home to tell their parents," explains Major Nightingale.

This prevents fraudsters asking for money from their families - claiming they can help them get in. 

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New recruit on the phone to his family.

Their futures now clear, it is now over to Gurkha Company to mould these strong young men selected in Nepal, into warriors for the British Army.

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Happiness on the face of a new recruit.