Prince Harry will try to repay the “favour” he says Britain owes Nepal when he arrives in Kathmandu on Saturday to thank the Gurkhas for their 200 years of service to the Crown. The Prince also wants to “shine a spotlight” on the Himalayan country, which was devastated by an earthquake almost a year ago, and encourage tourists to return by saying the country is open for business.
Making his first visit to Nepal, the Prince will spend a night as the house guest of an 86-year-old widow whose husband served in the Royal Gurkha Rifles, at her home 6,000ft up in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Lamjung region.
Alex Pope, of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, which supports the 25,000 Gurkha pensioners in Nepal, said: “There is a lot of excitement about his visit – the Gurkhas have great respect for the Royal family in general and it’s well known among the Gurkha community that Harry served alongside 1st Bn Royal Gurkha Rifles in Afghanistan in 2008, so Harry is particularly popular.
“They have been talking about what an honour it is that a prince from a far away land is coming to visit them in their villages.”
Prince Harry will meet the families of Gurkhas killed in Afghanistan, and will also visit the military base in Pokhara where the fearsome warriors are chosen via a selection process that is regarded as one of the toughest in the world.
There he will learn about the doko race, a two-mile scramble up a near-vertical hill carrying 35kg (77lbs) of rocks in a basket supported by a strap across the forehead.
Prince Harry saw Gurkhas in action during his ten years in the Army, and has said there is “no safer place” than by the side of a Gurkha.
Last year marked the bicentenary of Gurkhas entering the British Army, and this year is the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Segauli, which formalised diplomatic relations between Britain and Nepal. A spokesman for the Prince said: “Having served alongside Gurkhas Prince Harry has a huge amount of respect for them and admires the strength and resilience of the Nepali people as a whole.
“This will be a chance for him to really understand the culture of the people he has served with in the Army, a chance to fulfil a personal desire to understand more about where these men come from, their background, upbringing and motivation.. It will also mark a moment of personal gratitude to the Gurkhas for their service to the Crown.”
Nepal also wants Prince Harry to tell the world that the country is ready to welcome them, having made great strides in repairing the earthquake damage. Tourism is a huge part of the economy, but travellers have yet to return in significant numbers.
During his visit the Prince will trek in the foothills of the Himalayas to showcase the stunning scenery that used to attract 800,000 tourists per year, injecting £250 million into the economy. British travellers, along with American, Indian, Chinese and Sri Lankan tourists, are the most numerous.
Earlier this week, the Prince said he hoped to “shine a spotlight” on Nepal as it rebuilds following the earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people last April. He said the least Britain could do was support the nation's tourist industry and visit as Nepalese men had been fighting alongside British forces since the 19th century.
"Since World War One, World War Two - way before that - we've had the Nepalese army, the Gurkhas, helping us out, so the least we can do is repay the favour."