Gurung legends describe a "Ghale Raja," a king who ruled the Gurungs in ancient times. He was overthrown by the Nepali raja of a neighboring principality about the fifteenth century AD. By the sixteenth century, Khasa kings of the Shah family had conquered most of the principalities that make up Present-day Nepal. Gurungs acted as mercenaries in Khasa armies, including those of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ancestor of the present king of Nepal, who completed unification of the kingdom of Nepal when he conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. Because of their service, Gurungs enjoyed relatively high status in the new kingdom. They continued to act as mercenaries, and in the nineteenth century the Nepalese government signed a treaty allowing the British army to recruit them and other hill peoples into the Gurkha regiments, in which they continue to serve. Beyond ancient legend and documented relations with the nation-state (such as military service), little is known about the history of Gurungs.
The Gurungs are neither geographically isolated from other groups nor unaware of the social conventions and cultural values of the peoples around them. They are involved in trading relations with members of neighboring ethnic groups, including Thakalis and Tibetans, and high-caste Hindu merchants who travel through the villages selling household goods. Gurungs also have ongoing patron-client relationships with members of blacksmith and tailor service castes who live in hamlets attached to Gurung villages. Although interethnic marriage is strongly disapproved of, friendly social intercourse with members of other ethnic groups is usual, and bonds of ritual friendship ( nyel ) are forged between Gurungs and members of equal-status ethnic groups.