Gurkhas, a title claimed by Nepali soldiers, are some of the fiercest warriors in the world. Their bravery and battlefield exploits have earned them prestigious military awards as well as the fear and respect of both their allies and adversaries. "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha," Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw famously said. Embodying that fearless spirit, Gurkha veteran Hari Budha Magar overcame his wartime wounds to become the first double above-knee amputee to summit Mount Everest.
In 1979, Magar was born in a cowshed on his family's farm in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. At about 2,700 meters above sea level, Magar regularly experienced altitude sickness walking 45 minutes to school barefoot. Still, his tough upbringing made him resilient. Growing up in view of the Himalayas, Magar was fascinated by stories of climbing the mountain.
At the age of 19, Magar enlisted in the British Army and served with the Royal Gurkha Rifles. His 15-year military career took Magar to five continents; he served in a variety of roles including combat medic, sniper and covert surveillance. In 2010, during a patrol in Afghanistan, Magar stepped on an IED. "Suddenly a loud bang and the first thing was a ringing in my right ear. My body armor came up towards my face, my right arm was injured and I couldn’t move it," Magar recounts on his website. He lost both legs above the knee and sustained a myriad of other injuries.
Magar spent a month in the hospital and a further year learning to walk again on prosthetic legs. His disabilities made him ashamed to be seen in public. However, Magar rediscovered his self-esteem through sports and adventure including skydiving, cycling and golf. He is the first disabled person to ski in Nepal and the first double above-knee amputee to kayak around the Isle of Wight. With his mountain heritage, Magar found a passion for climbing and became the first double above-knee amputee to summit a mountain over 6,000 meters.
Looking to push himself and inspire others, Magar set his sights on Everest. However, in 2017, Nepal banned solo, blind and double amputee climbers from the mountain. With other climbers and disability organizations, Magar fought the discriminatory ban. In 2018, it was overturned by the Supreme Court of Nepal.
For his ascent up Everest, Magar used specialized short prosthetic legs created under the leadership of Krishna Thapa, a fellow Gurkha and the former SAS Chief Mountain Instructor. After rounds of acclimatization rotations above the base camp, Magar made it to the summit of Mount Everest, 8,849 meters, on May 19, 2023. "It's an amazing experience," he told The Himalayan Times. Magar also said that, along with four Sherpa climbers, he stood atop the roof of the world.