GORKHA is a village in the Himalaya. Humble as it is, it is the home of the Gurkha people. The history of every nation is moulded by some predominant feature, the sea, the stark desert, its position on a rich trade route or vital military approach, and so on. The history of the Gurkhas has been moulded by the excluding mountains which have through the ages cradled this people, and by the fever-raddled barrier of the low-lying, swampy, forested Terai. I speak of the 'history of the Gurkhas' rather than of 'the history of Nepal' where the Gurkhas live, because the two, as this short account will show, have only become synonymous during the past two hundred years.
This work is therefore devoted in the main to the years from A.D. 1742 when the Gurkhas first emerged into history. Before that time they were an unknown clan dotted about the alpine village of Gorkha, within an obscure tribe lying to the West of what was then known to the Hon'ble East India Company, to the Moghul Emperors at Delhi, and to its neighbour, the Nawab Vizier of Oudh, as Nepal. Here was a lush green valley four thousand feet up in the Himalaya mountains, peopled by a Mongoloid race of Newars, part Buddhist and part Hindu, with a civilisation and culture of their own stretching far back through the centuries into the twilight where history and legend strive to prevail.
Nepal, as the British left her in 1947, was the independent kingdom of the Gurkhas, a slab of land five hundred and twenty miles long by some hundred broad, from Sikkim to the Kali River, its boundary with Kumaon. It marches with Tibet along the highest of the eternal snows and with India along the lower mountains, the toes of the Grand Himalaya, with the Terai cut out of India from below Darjeeling to the Gandak River, as a foothold on the plains. She was an ally of Great Britain, an often proven comrade on the battlefields of the world and a sure support in every crisis. Her people have shown a veneration for the British Crown, and a selfless devotion to the British cause which can hardly be matched by any one race to another in the whole history of the world.
Yet never have their King and their people been more than allies of the British: always they have been a sovereign and independent people so far as the British have been concerned. Why they should have thus treated us is something of a mystery. Why a Gurkha soldier should speak of the British Crown as 'Our King' or 'Our Queen' is not easy for most others to understand. This book will attempt an explanation and will at least recount how history brought the two races together and how each served the other: and it will tell who the Gurkhas really are and by what means they came to reign supreme over half a thousand miles of hills, mountains, valleys and twisting rivers of the high Himalaya, a small, warlike people who, in defence of their own independence, have for two centuries shielded India from the swelling power of Tartaric Asia.
The End-papers map of 1816 shows from left to right Kangra, the Twelve Lordships, Sirmoor, Garhwal, Kumaon and Yumilla (Jumla), the Baisia (twenty-two) Rajahs, Malebum and the Chaubisia (twenty-four) Rajahs, Gorkha (Gurkha), Nepal and Makwanpore, Khatang (Kiranti), Sikkim, Bhotan. Running along the whole southern extent are the lands of the independent Sikh King, the Lion of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh; the possessions of the Sovereign Nawab Vizier of Oudh, and the territories of the Company. The Gurkha authority was never exerted over the Dogra state of Kangra and only for a short while over Sikkim, so it is with the peoples between the two that we are mostly concerned and, of these, our attention naturally turns at once to the region with the most ancient known history, Nepal. Up to the time of the Gurkha eruption in 1768 the history of this whole wide area is only the history of this one valley, the Valley of Nepal: this volume is simply an account, as mingled as their crisscross ravines and mountains, of the origins, the petty strife and the fusion of the clans who were the fighting men of the Gurkha nation whose infantry is a by-word for gallantry and battle-skill in the world today.
These clans, or sects, are the Limbus, Rais, Sunwars, and Lepchas, the Khas or Chettri, the Magars and Gurungs, salted with the most typical specimens of the Gurkha, the Thakurs or squirearchy, the hereditary aristocrats of Nepal, blood descendants of her highland lairds, ranking above all others except the Brahmans. The spelling `Gorkha' and `Gorkhali' was usual up to recent times and is, in fact, the correct spelling, now again adopted by the present Indian Army for its `Gorkha' regiments.
However, as the British adaptation 'Gurkha' and `Gurkhale, is more usual, I will employ that spelling throughout this present history, except for the town itself which, to dis-tinguish it from the clansmen, will be spelt `Gorkha'. The chronicler slights a people's legends and traditions at his peril for, as often as not, they are founded on fact. In compiling this account of the Gurkhas, I have, as far as I know, given full weight to their own traditional beliefs and, where there is doubt, have chosen that account which I have found to be the most likely. There is one factor which confuses all who try to fit together the history of Nepal and the Gurkhas, and it is that their method of computing dates was altered several times, in the carefree manner that one would associate with these mountaineers. Thus, Captain Kirkpatrick, who visited Nepal in 1793, the first Englishman to do so, recorded from what he was there told the dates of the kings' reigns. A typical statement was that a King Yellung Kherraut (a Kiranti prince) of Nepal reigned for ninety years and three months, while twenty-five of his successors claimed together 1,581 years and one month, an average of sixty-three years apiece! By checking and cross-checking, European investigators have brought some sort of order into this wilderness so that a reasonably credible tale can be told.
In telling the story of the Gurkha nation of modern Nepal, one cannot avoid starting with some sort of record of the ancient Newar nation who dwelt, and still dwell, in the centre of Nepal - in the Valley of Nepal -who were conquered a short two hundred years ago by the Gurkhas of Western Nepal, and who are now rising once more to political prominence in the country at the expense of those same Westerners, the Gurkhas . .the pen is asserting itself against the sword.
To cover all those thousands of years of Newar history in a few chapters, I have had to select the personalities and the events that were most concerned in the making of the modern Newars and those that have a bearing on the later period of Gurkha supremacy. It has, too, been necessary to weave in the story of Eastern Nepalese - the Kiranti, the Limbu and the Rai tribes - who ere also subjugated by the Gurkhas at about the same time as the New-ars, for they are today, by virtue of that conquest, loosely spoken of as Gurkhas.
Taken all in all, the Gurkha must, for his unusually fine qualities, be nearly unique in the modern world. For this alone the story of his race must be worth telling. Let any enquirer be assured that if he seeks to understand the meaning of courage and selfless devotion, then he should soldier with a Gurkha regiment. He will return an enlightened and a better man from the experience.
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