A total of eleven women applied to participate in the competition, but only four made it to Chandigarh to confirm their entries. This year's contestants are Rinchen Choden (25) and Tenzin Namchoe (22) from Bangalore, Tenzin Norzom (23) from Varanasi and Yangchen Metok (19) from Dharamshala.
The director of the pageant, Lobsang Wangyal, who introduced the press conference, explained his decision to keep the competition a "low-profile" and "less glamorous" event out of respect for the victims of the Kyegudo earthquake in April. Wangyal stated that "in place of firecrackers there would be prayers" for those affected by the tragedy.
In the run-up to the finale in Dharamshala on the 6th June, the contenders are undergoing intensive cultural training and grooming activities. These include training in stage craft, dance and yoga. They will also undertake classes in Tibetan culture, history and current affairs.
The pageant consists of seven rounds, including a swimsuit contest on Friday and "Talk and Talent" rounds on Saturday. Sunday will see the commencement of the final stages, including ‘Evening Gown', ‘Traditional Costume' and ‘Interview' rounds to be held at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Tenzin Norzom told the Tibet Post that her favourite round was the ‘Evening Gown' event, as it was the only time she would be able to dress up in such attire.
The contestants have been vocal about their stance on Chinese rule in Tibet and have openly criticised Chinese activities whilst celebrating their Tibetan identity. One of the finalists, Rinchen Choden earlier expressed her belief that China "has no business to interfere with our country" and went on to say "I am proud of my country and I am proud to represent myself for Tibet".
In the past the controversial competition has angered the Chinese authorities. Previous Miss Tibet winners have been forced to withdraw from international beauty pageants due to pressure from the Chinese government. Participant Rinchen Choden previously defended her right to partake in the pageant, stating "I can participate in any international competition and China has nothing to do with that". Speaking of international competition exclusions, Wangyal told TP today that it was "sad... its as if we are not a people...our rights should be as valid as other racial groups", further adding such competitions are a "celebration of diversity, let Tibetans be there".
When asked by the TP, at today's press conference, what her friends and family thought about her entry in the competition, participant Tenzin Namchoe explained, "my parents live in Tibet so I cannot tell them I'm going to this competition, the Chinese consider this a political activity".
Wangyal's competition has also received criticism from the Tibetan government-in-exile, with Samdhong Rinpoche calling it ‘un-Tibetan' in its copying of western culture. However speaking to TP, Wangyal has defended the event expressing that it "asserts Tibet as a nation and Tibetans as a people", further adding "I don't believe in preserving, I believe in evolving". Yangchen Metok explained her reasons for entering the competition, "the important thing is just to take part. Tibetan girls are usually more shy than others, so don't usually take part in any activities...they should take this kind of opportunity". Namchoe further defended this point by praising the pageant as a "good platform for young Tibetan ladies".
The winner of this year's ninth annual contest, sponsored by Kingfisher Airlines, will receive Rs.100,000, whilst the first and second runners-up will receive Rs.50,000 and Rs.25,000 respectively.