A Tibetan refugee hopes a beauty pageant can shine light on her nation's story.
Dolma maintains a smile as she describes her month-long escape on foot from Tibet over the Himalayas when she was eight. ''It was a nightmare. My sister and I and 25 monks hid under rocks all day and only walked at night, I still have these recurring nightmares about Chinese soldiers on horses with guns,'' she says.
Now 25, this newly qualified nurse from Melbourne, Australia, is heading to Dharamsala, India's Tibetan enclave, to compete for a crown that doesn't have a country: the title of Miss Tibet 2011. But for Ngodup Dolma Drimedtsang, next month's pageant isn't just about beauty and scripted answers; it is a political act.As a little girl in Tibet, she recalls Chinese soldiers forcing her family to contradict their Buddhist beliefs by killing a litter of pet puppies. This grisly act saved her father from being taken away but Dolma believes it contributed to the death of her deeply religious mother during the birth of her brother, Tenzen.
After several years in Nepal and northern India, Dolma, Tenzen and their older sister, Lobsang, came to Melbourne in 2005 on humanitarian visas to join relatives in the city's Tibetan community.
Dolma completed her Victorian Certificate of Education and has now completed a nursing course at Ballarat University. She plans to specialise in midwifery to honour her mother.
I want to become a midwife and help those women going through childbirth like my mum because nobody around was qualified to help my mum,'' she says.
She will become the first Australian to compete in the Miss Tibet pageant.
In its 10th year, the contest divides and unites Tibetans. Dolma says the pageant is controversial because it challenges traditionally modest gender values and conservative views about Western dilution of Tibetan customs, as well as Western stereotypes of Tibet.
The first generation of Tibetan youngsters growing up outside Tibet on Bollywood or MTV adore the rather timid swimsuit round much to the shock of their elders, who nevertheless come for the old songs and dances. ''I'm taking both a one-piece and a two-piece swimsuit depending on the mood there,'' Dolma says.
The exiled Tibetan government does not recognise the pageant but it has the support of the nation's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who acknowledges the popularity of the pageant.
If more people want that, then go ahead,'' the Dalai Lama says on misstibet.com. ''I think that it should not only be female, but male also. Mr Tibet, handsome, then I think more equal. Miss Tibet, only from female side - why?''
For Dolma, victory at the end of the pageant will be knowing that she has shone a light on the Tibetan story and revealed it to a new generation. ''We are not killing the culture; we are trying to be modern. Miss Tibet is a political act.'