The History of Hill Racing

Lance Naik and Rifleman
July 27, 2016
The Queens’ Truncheon
August 1, 2016

The History of Hill Racing


The Hill Race was first introduced by Major The Hon (later Brigadier General) C G Bruce of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) as a protest against the Indian Army attitude which considered that Gurkhas could not compete on equal terms with Punjabis, Sikhs and other Indian Army castes. Unsurpassed among athletic contests as a spectacle, it had important consequences, for it not only established the reputation of the Gurkha as practically invincible on the hill-side, but also had the effect of improving military skills associated with hill-work generally in the context of operations in the hills of the North West Frontier. In 1890 the first year of the Punjab Frontier sports competition, a hill race was run with 133 starters of all classes. The first thirty three places were won by Gurkhas, the first Punjabi coming in 34th. Three annual local races followed and in 1894 the 5th Gurkha Challenge Cup was presented to become the Hill Race Trophy. This silver trophy now resides in the Gurkha Museum. The Trophy is a silver statue of a Gurkha in national costume, and was commonly known as “The Little Man”.

One of the most notable of all the hill running performances was in 1899. Havildar Harkbir Thapa had been with Bruce in England when they went to the Isle of Skye. As the result of an argument between the Laird, McLeod of McLeod and some of his ghillies, a small bet was made that Harkbir would not run from Sligachan Inn to the top of Mount Glamaig and back in an hour and a quarter, the ghillies saying that their dogs could not do this. The distance is two miles open moorland to the foot, and a rise of 2,817 feet to the summit. Harkbir accomplished it by himself in thirty-seven minutes to the summit, and eighteen minutes back to the Inn without fatigue. This record remained unbroken until 1997; many athletes in the North had tried to beat it, but it took a professional fell runner in running shoes, nearly a hundred years later to shave off five minutes from the time set in 1899.

After the transfer of the four Gurkha Indian Army Regiments to the British Army on 1 January 1948 operations in Malaya interrupted the reintroduction of the Gurkha Hill Race Trophy. With the formation of 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade in Hong Kong in 1960, the first 48 Brigade Khud Race competition was run on a hill called “Nameless” in the New Territories that same year. The course was one mile and 164 yards long, and involved a steep climb up a 1,300 foot slope followed by a perilous descent of 1,200 feet. The Hong Kong record time was set by Colour Sergeant Gobinda Rai 10GR in 1981, in a time of fifteen minutes and twelve seconds before the last Khud Race was run in Kong Kong in 1996. The last Brigade Hill Race was run in the United Kingdom on a very wet and windy day in Wales on 6 June 1995 which was won by 3rd Royal Gurkha Rifles. After 106 years of Gurkha Hill Racing this spectacular sporting event has ceased to be run in Britain’s Gurkha Regiments.

The Museum will be closed Tuesday 19 December from 12pm, we will re-open as normal the next day. Dismiss

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