This video shows the 200-year-old Gurkha selection process

The Gurkha rifles in the British, Indian, and Nepali armies are accomplished and elite units made up almost entirely of men from a small area in Nepal.

For candidates hopeful to get a slot in one of these outfits, there is a grueling selection process that dates back two centuries.


Defense Imagery photo by Cpl. Michael Strachan

The Ghurkas are named after the 8th-century Hindu warrior named Guru Gorakhnath, and the Ghurka people built a small empire in the Himalayan mountains in the 1700s. When the British tried to break into the Ghurka nation from 1814 to 1816, the Ghurkas eventually lost but resisted so fiercely that the Dutch East Indian Company asked if the Himalayan soldiers would like to become paid warriors for the larger, richer British Empire.

Enough Ghurkas accepted the offer and the British set up the Gurkha Brigade. Over 200 years later, Gurkhas continue to serve in the Brigade of Ghurkas, and British officers are still sent to Nepal each year to grade potential recruits and decide which young Himalayan men will be allowed to join the brigade.

A Nepalese soldier from the Royal Gurkha Rifles regiment of the British army, Brigade of Gurkhas stands Sanger duty at Patrolling Base Chili, Lashkar Gah district, Helmand province, Sept. 23. (Photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan David Chandler)

The selection process includes interviews and exams, but it focuses on endurance, drive, and physical health. According to the documentary below, thousands of men will come out to compete for positions in the Gurkha units — most of them aiming for the about 230 slots open in the British Army each year.

To get a slot, they have to pass physical tests, math and English exams, and outcompete their peers in races — sometimes with heavy loads on long paths up the Himalayan mountains.

This award-winning documentary from Kesang Tseten follows a group of potential Gurkha warriors through the selection process, showing how they deal with the stress as well as what they must do to even enter training. Check it out below: