MIGHTY CULTURE

The spooky way the UK teaches its Gurkhas English

Gurkha Rifle members are raised in Nepal before being recruited into the British military. Once they're in, the military helps them build upon their knowledge of English language, history, and culture. Part of this process involves a visit to the abandoned abbey that inspired one of the most enduring horror monsters of all time.

When the English military needs to train its newest Gurkha recruits on English language and culture, they take them to the Gothic, fog-covered abbey that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula for some cruel reason. Then, they urge them to buy fish and chips from local vendors for some even crueler reason.


A British Gurkha soldier watches down his rifle barrel for threats during an exercise with U.S. troops.

(U.S. Army William B. King)

Gurkha soldiers, for those who haven't heard, are elite troops recruited out of the Gurkha region of Nepal. Troops from the kingdom stomped the British and the British East India Company in the 1760s and again during the Anglo-Nepalese War, which ran from 1814 to 1816. The Gurkhas defeated so many British troops that the East India Company hired them for future conflicts — if you can't beam 'em, hire 'em.

This mercenary force proved itself over the years and, eventually, the Gurkhas were brought into the regular British Army in special regiments. Now, they're elite units famous for their controlled savagery in combat.

Today, the Gurkhas are still recruited out of the mountains of Nepal. While they're assessed on their English skills during the selection process, many young recruits from Nepal generally know little of the language and culture of the nation they swear to defend.

So, the British government gives them classes and takes them on field trips to historic sites. Oddly enough, one of the historical sites they take them to is the abbey in Whitby, North Yorkshire — the site that inspired Dracula.

"Thank you for defending England. Too bad it's haunted, eh?"

The Whitby Abbey ruins which helped inspire the story that would become 'Dracula.'

(Ackers72, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bram Stoker visited a friend in Whitby in July, 1890 — and it was a Gothic writer's dream. It had the old abbey ruins, a church infested with bats, and large deposits of the black stone jet, often used in mourning jewelry.

Stoker was working on a novel about "Count Wampyr" when he arrived, but it was in a library in Whitby that he learned about Vlad Tepes, the impalement-happy prince whose nickname was Dracula, meaning "son of the dragon." Stoker also learned about a Russian ship that had crashed nearby while carrying a load of sand. He tweaked the name of the ship to create the ship Dracula used to move his home soil and coffin to England.

In 'Dracula,' the titular monster lands on the coast of Whitby — at a place like this — before climbing the abbey's steps and beginning a reign of terror.

(Andrew Bone, CC BY 2.0)

In the novel, Dracula's ship runs aground at Whitby and the "Black Dog" runs up the abbey's 199 steps to begin terrorizing the English residents.

Now, Gurkhas tour the area to learn about Stoker and absorb some English history.

After their tour, the Gurkhas are encouraged to try out the local delicacy, fish and chips (for the fiercely American among us, "chips" means "french fries"). This may not seem like additional horror, but since Nepal is known for spicy curry and the English are known for using vinegar as a condiment, this is honestly the cruelest part of the lesson.

They also get to jump in the sea — or whatever.