10 May 2020 I England has always trusted these fierce fighters for all kinds of perilous missions but recently British Gurkhas stationed in Nepal were deployed for a different kind of job altogether. This time, they battled against time to rescue over a hundred British travellers stranded in various parts of the mountainous nation so that they could be in Kathmandu on time to catch rescue flights back home.
The Gurkhas who participated in these rescue missions were from the British Gurkhas Nepal, a unit of the British Army based in Nepal. They are stationed in the country to select and recruit soldiers for the Brigade of Gurkhas. Some 3,500 Nepalese nationals serve in the British Army and form an elite force world-renown for their fighting skills and fearlessness.
Their tales of valour galore, for the good part of the last 200 years, most recently being that of Corporal Dipprasad Pun who in 2010 “took care of” more than 30 Talibans in Afghanistan’s Helmund Province – singlehandedly.
But they did not have to wield their feared Khukri and machine guns for the latest Nepal mission.
“Over three weeks, the soldiers, embassy staff and locally employed drivers, travelled more than 4,000 miles through the Himalayas to 13 different districts, negotiating river crossings and landslides, to reach the tourists scattered across dozens of mountainous towns, villages and national parks,” British government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a press release on May 8.
The locations where British travellers were stuck when the COVID-19 lockdown commenced were so far-flung that the rescuers had to set up camps and spend the night on the side of the road because of the long and hazardous journeys.
“British Gurkhas Nepal has a long and proud history of operating in Nepal regardless of circumstance. It is both fitting, and in keeping with the role of the Armed Forces that when called on for assistance that we do our very best to support those in need,” said Lt Col Peter Wettenhall, Deputy Commander, British Gurkhas Nepal.
“We are delighted that we were able to assist the British Embassy, British Nationals and our soldiers and families in Nepal through this trying time,” Lt Col Wettenhall added.
Staff at the British Embassy in Kathmandu mobilised the British Gurkhas Nepal network in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Dharan to retrieve the 109 British nationals as well as 28 other foreigners.
Sergeant Prakash Gurung of the Royal Logistic Corps was one of the Gurkhas who participated in the rescue mission. Sgt Gurung, who has completed three tours of duty to Iraq, had to nearly abort his mission due to a landslide as he negotiated single-track roads to reach a stranded solo traveller from Manang.
“I stepped up to volunteer because I thought it was a part of my job. Helping people in dire situations gives me a sense of satisfaction. The gratitude people expressed in messages has encouraged me to do more of this sort of work,” the Gurkha was quoted as saying in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release.
British ambassador to Nepal, Nicola Pollitt, said getting British nationals home from a country like Nepal where extreme challenges prevail due to the rugged nature of its terrain would have been impossible “without the close collaboration of the Embassy and British Gurkhas Nepal”.
“We have been able to reunite more than 700 British travellers with their families in the UK, and that would not have been possible without the tireless work of our Embassy and Gurkha team,” ambassador Pollitt said.
Besides helping British subjects, the Gurkhas also assisted foreign nationals from France, Australia, Ireland, India, Spain, Canada, Germany, Italy, the US and Switzerland.
British government’s drive to get travellers back home meant by May 7 some 20,000 British travellers were on board over 80 charter flights from Across the South Asian region including Nepal.