Braving a controversial â€œswimwearâ€ round and questions about Tibetâ€™s â€freedom struggleâ€, a sociology student born in India has won the annual Miss Tibet beauty pageant held by Tibetans living in exile.
Organiser Lobsang Wangyal says the pageant is not a political event but a celebration of â€œbeautiful, elegant, brave and modern Tibetan girlsâ€.
But in truth this â€œpageant with a differenceâ€ is a mix of glitzy entertainment, hype and the slightly incongruous promotion of the Tibetan refugeesâ€™ causeâ€”independence from China.
â€œI have a huge responsibility, being Miss Tibet is not easy,â€ said 21-year-old winner Tsering Chungtak as fireworks lit up the night sky on Sunday over McLeodganj, home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees.
â€I have to represent my country on the international stage.â€
And Chungtak wasted no time, appealing for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyina, believed to have been held under house arrest by the Chinese since 1985, when he was a six-year-old boy, three days after the Dalai Lama recognised him as the incarnation of Tibetâ€™s second highest religious leader, the Panchen Lama.
â€œWe all know the Panchen Lama is the worldâ€™s youngest political prisoner,â€ she said, dressed in traditional Tibetan costume for the final round of the event. â€œI am going to raise my voice and I want people to support me.â€
The Miss Tibet contest, now in its fifth year, has never been short of controversy. Unsurprisingly it annoys the Chinese, and a previous winner had to pull out of beauty pageants in Zimbabwe and Malaysia last year after Chinese objections.
It also irks some conservative Buddhists.
The prime minister of Tibetâ€™s â€œgovernment-in-exileâ€ once accused it of â€œaping Western cultureâ€ and against Buddhist values. Womenâ€™s groups are unhappy with the swimwear parade, thrown open to limited public viewing this year for the first time.
Just five girls took part in this yearâ€™s eventâ€”a sixth was forced to pull out after objections from the high-altitude Tibetan unit of the Indian army where she serves.
They included a call-centre worker living in India, a fashion student from Nepal and a beautician from Canada, as well as 20-year Metok Lhanze, who fled Tibet two years ago after spending more than a month as a Chinese political prisoner.
The girls glided down the catwalk in Western evening dresses before reappearing in traditional attireâ€”red, green, blue and gold silk with heavy amber, coral and turquoise jewellery.
There were a few glitches. Fireworks interrupted Wangyalâ€™s opening speech, a mouse ran across the stage on Saturday, and rowdier young men in the 1,500-strong crowd jeered during the girlsâ€™ earnest attempts to talk politics.
But the enthusiasm of the participants seemed to win the day.
â€œI absolutely loved it â€œ said Miss Washington State, Kristen Eddings, visiting a Tibetan childrenâ€™s home and roped in at the last minute as a judge. â€œThese young women really do want to make a difference and it is very good for them to have a stage.â€
Eddings, a contender for the Miss America crown, said the contest was â€œso drastically different to anything I have ever seen before. But I liked that little bit of spontaneity.â€
It also got a blessing of sorts from the Dalai Lama himself.
â€œIf people want it, why not?,â€ he told journalists earlier this month. â€œBut I think it should be not only female but male also. Mr Tibet, handsome, then it would be more fair,â€ he added, with his characteristic chuckle.