The Pageant
Day Three - Tashi Yangchen crowned Miss Tibet 2004

Tashi Yangchen is crowned Miss Tibet 2004

Mcleod Ganj, India, 11 October 2004

by Kirsten Hyde

Tashi Yangchen, a 24-year old computer engineer, was crowned Miss Tibet 2004 at a spectacular ceremony held in McLeod Ganj, India.

At a show attended by over 2,000 people, Yangchen was also announced the winner of Miss Photogenic 2004 as decided by the public through online and ballot voting.

The five contenders for the coveted title — Dhondup Wangmo, Kalsang Dickey, Sonam Dickey, Tashi Yangchen, and Thinlay Dolma — took part in seven rounds during a three-day pageant, and were judged on certain criteria including intelligence, articulation, confidence, artistic ability and stage presence.

A visibly moved Yangchen collected the crown from last year's Miss Tibet winner, Tsering Kyi, and was bombarded by photographers as she walked down the ramp towards an exuberant crowd.

After the crowning, Yangchen, who lives in Sikkim, India, said, "I felt I was very lucky to win the title but when the crown was put on me it felt like it was for all the contestants. All of us are winners because of the courage it took to take part".

The other contestants were magnanimous in their praise for Yangchen. Dhondup Wangmo and Thinlay Dolma both said Yangchen was "the perfect choice" for Miss Tibet. The Director of the pageant, Lobsang Wangyal, presented Yangchen with the Miss Tibet scholarship: a cheque of one lakh rupees (Rs 100,000), a part of which Yangchen will donate to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet movement. The rest she will spend on furthering her education.

While she is unfazed by all the media attention, Yangchen said she is looking forward to carrying out her new duties as Miss Tibet. "This big break has not affected me as a person, but on the other hand the title means I need to take on more responsibilities. Winning the crown is not the end, just the beginning."

One of her aims is to appeal to the Tibetan youth to follow the teachings of the Dalai Lama and to maintain a Tibetan identity by keeping its rich cultural heritage alive in thought and action.

News channels from around the world, including the BBC and ARD in Germany, filmed the pageant, which has been engulfed in controversy since its inception two years ago. The contest has been slammed by a section of the Tibetan community in Dharamsala — seat of the exiled Tibetan government — for not being in line with Tibetan culture.

But organizers have dismissed this claim, saying the pageant has a mission to promote and establish Tibetan identity and nationality to the mainstream population by reaching an audience that may never have heard of Tibet or the current plight of the Tibetan people. To have international support for Tibetan people, it is important to have different venues to create awareness, they say.

The Tibetan theme prevailed throughout the event as the five contestants participated in a Tibetan costume round, sang traditional songs in a talent contest, and gave a presentation on topics about Tibetan current affairs, history, the political situation and culture.

Lauren Cutcliffe, the presenter of the show, invited two dedicated supporters of the Tibetan cause — Palden Gyatso, a former political prisoner who spent 33 years in Chinese prisons in Tibet, and Meghan Howard, winner of the Free Spirit Award 2004 — to begin the ceremony with the lighting of the Free Spirit torches.

The Free Spirit Award was given to Howard to acknowledge her contribution to the Tibetan cause. Last year, she criticised the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, when he gave a speech to students at the Harvard Business School in the US. After he said, "I understand my people and I love my people," Howard stood up, pulled out the Tibetan flag and shouted, "Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people. We will never stop fighting. I am a voice for those inside Tibet. Free Tibet."

She collected her award from Palden Gyatso before a cheering crowd.

Spectacular fireworks and a speech from Wangyal followed the opening. Wangyal, whose father died in March this year of a liver disease, talked about the importance of maintaining a good health and discussed the power of the Tibetan youth. Besides being proud of their heritage he said it is important that they channel their power into constructive activities. "If you have a dream, try to live it," he told the crowd.

The audience was kept entertained in between the pageant rounds by swing dancers Tim Collins and Jessie Litven from the US who performed the Lindy Hop dance, and Rinzin Palmo, a Tibetan singer who performed two songs from her album, Amay Shelray.

After the crowning of Miss Tibet, Wangyal performed his very own, unique "Free Spirit" dance, to the delight of the crowd and his team members.

All the contestants said they enjoyed the pageant. "It was a perfect show," Dolma said, while Wangmo said she had "a great time and a nice break from the office."

Yangchen added, "I want to give credit to the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; all the team members and other contestants who worked so hard to make the show a success; my family and friends; and most of all my parents who have always had faith in me, loved me unconditionally and supported me in all aspects."

For more details click on 'Schedule'.




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