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Day 46: Kathmandu to Lekhani

Michael Palin - HimalayaWe are heading away from the tourist trails into the mountains west of Pokhara to the rural heartlands, where one of Nepal's most famous exports comes from. Described variously as 'tough', 'hardy' and 'indomitable', the Gurkhas have long punched above their weight in the British Army. Since the first battalions were formed in 1815, these Nepali mercenaries have been fierce and faithful servants of the Crown, with a reputation for unwavering loyalty and unquestioning ruthlessness.

There are 3500 Gurkhas in the British Army at the moment (and 50,000 in the Indian army) and they have served all over the world, including recently in the Falklands and Iraq. The Nepali government allows a certain number to be recruited each year and Lt-Colonel Adrian Griffith, the Gurkha Chief of Staff in Nepal, has suggested we accompany him to the village of Lekhani to see how the recruiting process works. Adrian, slim, straight-backed and a couple of decades older than he looks, is the epitome of the decent Englishman abroad. At the age of eight, he first read the Johnny Gurkha stories in Victor magazine and the fascination that developed led him to join the regiment 15 years later.

Until recently there were no roads west of Pokhara and among the predominantly poor farmers in this inaccessible network of valleys and foothills one of the world's few surviving Communist parties is alive and well.

Succoured by poverty and feeble administration, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) demands the removal of the monarchy, the setting up of a constituent assembly and the re-writing of the constitution. Since 1996 they have chosen to pursue the class struggle through guerrilla warfare. Over 7000 people have been killed, 10,000 injured and many more forced out of their homes as they took on the police and the army. No-one seems quite sure what their leadership is up to at the moment. Prachandra, leader of the insurgents, has sounded more conciliatory recently and they have observed a ceasefire for the Dasain festival. But that, as I know, ended the day before yesterday.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 46: Kathmandu to Lekhani
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 102

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