Brits bring on the female Gurkas
Two heavy rocks clasped in her outstretched hands, 19-year-old Tsiring Thapa was shaking with exhaustion. It was only 6.30am, but she and more than 50 other Nepali young women bidding to become the first female Gurkhas had already completed a five-mile run through boulder-strewn mud.Here are some shots of the training. They join one of the most storied units in the British military. The exploits of the Gurka men are legendary. It is said that they are not permitted to draw their famous knives without drawing blood. With the Maoist trying to take over Nepal there is even more incentive to leave. This report suggest some of the retirees are not fairing well.
"Stay strong! Hold out the rocks, keep your arms out straight! Five minutes more, this pain is nothing if you want to become a soldier," a retired sergeant major barked at them.
"Are you ready to follow my orders? Are you ready to train to become a Gurkha, to become the best?" The women yelled their reply: "Yes, sir."
Long the preserve of only the fittest Nepalese males, securing one of 300 annual commissions to fight as a Gurkha in the British Army is the equivalent of winning the lottery in the Himalayan kingdom.
Now, for the first time, recruitment has been opened to Nepalese women after Derek Twigg, Britain's junior defence minister, announced that Gurkhas would in future be covered by rules on sexual discrimination in the workplace. Up to 50 places are being made available for women this year.
For Nepal's young women, many of whom are forced into early marriage by their parents, the opportunity to sign up is a dream come true. Beauticians, hotel receptionists and waitresses have ditched their jobs and flocked to the resort town of Pokhara to enrol in privately run, high-altitude fitness training programmes, designed to prepare recruits for the tough army entrance exams due next month. More than 80 training schools have sprung up to cater for the demand.
Many of the girls sport pink laces on their running shoes, brightly coloured hair ribbons and gaudy nail varnish, but insist it is no reflection on their suitability for a regiment renowned for its toughness.
"We shouldn't be underestimated because we are women and we want to look beautiful while we train," said 17-year-old Sushma Lama.
The selection criteria are tough. Each young woman must have good marks on her school leaving certificate, and be able to perform 14 heaves to the high beam, 75 bench jumps in one minute and 70 sit-ups in two minutes. She must have no more than two fillings and two gaps in her teeth, have perfect hearing and sight, and be capable of good conversational English.
During a three-week assessment, only those recruits who are fit enough to run three miles up the steep foothills of the Himalayas, while carrying 50 lb of rocks on their backs, will be deemed worthy of joining the army.
Even then, the women are unlikely to be deployed in a combat role. Female recruits will join the Queen's Gurkha Engineers, Queen's Gurkha Signals and Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, but will be kept out of the Royal Gurkha Rifles.