Tsering Chungtak: A Memoir By Tashi Wangchuk
I first met Tsering Chungtak, one of the six contenders for the 2006 Miss Tibet Beauty Pageant, when we were videotaping for our documentary,’Miss Tibet in Exile’ in Dharamshala. She was a bright university student who was only in her early twenties; and for that matter her knowledge on Tibetan world and exile politics was pretty much in its formative days. But I was amazed by her enthusiasm and speed in learning about these within a short span of time. Miss Tibet participants had about ten hectic days to groom and practice for the finale. During this time, they were given talks, presentations, discussions, calligraphy, yoga, Gangkyi tour, dance sessions, cat walk, and many more.
Tsering was also one of the friendliest participants among her group, although all of them were friendly. She would never hesitate to throw the silliest of silly questions to anyone nearby. As I was following the participants with a video camera pretty much all the time, obviously I had to become the one catering to her never-ending questions about the exile government based in Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamshala. Fortunately I had lived in the area for a while and hence I had not much difficulty in answering her queries. Given that she was a smart and savvy girl, at the back of my mind I was quite sure that she would be the one to win the year’s title.
While spending some time with Tsering, I found her not only educated, but also a kind and a responsible woman. For instance, many people think that Lobsang Wangyal, the director of Miss Tibet Beauty Pageant, makes a lot of money through his annual event. On the contrary, Lobsang always runs into debt by the time the event is completed. He hosts Miss Tibet with a limited money and resources. All he had was two thousand US Dollars, contributed by his mother and brother who live in the US. But the good news is that he always manages to pull an amazing team to help him out, and over the years Miss Tibet event has become the most sought-after annual event in the spiritual town. The Year 2006 finale event had just finished, and the time had now come to hand over the cash prizes to the winners, and Lobsang had no extra money left in his pocket. On top of that he still had a stack of bills to settle at his table, and Lobsang’s last hope was the finale day’s ticket sale collection. Somehow Tsering Chungtak knew about Lobsang’s financial crises and to everyone’s surprise, she decided to donate half of her prize of one lakh rupees back to the director. All of the team members thanked and applauded her for her generosity.
I also had the honor to be her English translator for the question and answer round on the finale event. Although her English was near perfect, and better than mine, she preferred speaking Tibetan as most of the audience were Tibetans and she wanted to put the message through to them. I was rather taken aback by her decision, as all the judges were non-Tibetans and I could ruin her prospects altogether with my translations! Tsering gave great replies to every question the judges asked, and somehow we managed to pull through.
Tsering won the Miss Tibet 2006 title, and the event was wrapped up successfully with fire crackers dancing in the air and music playing in the middle of the night at TIPA ground. The next day, we had a nice farewell party at Hunted Hill Guest House, and by then all of the five beautiful participants had become more like sisters than competitors.
I am sure these ten days of hectic events were some of their best moments in life. Everyone including the helpers and volunteers were in tears while bidding farewell to one another. Tsering later participated in the Miss Earth Beauty Pageant, and became the first Tibetan woman to have participated in a major international beauty pageant. Tsering also made headlines when she withdrew from Miss Tourism Pageant as China put pressure on the organizers to add the word “China” to her sash. She would later travel to Taiwan to lead the Tibetan Olympics torch rally there.
Tsering Chungtak will be remembered for her inner as well as outer beauty. She had a promising future and I consider losing her to be a huge loss for all Tibetans. My prayers to this beautiful soul and condolences to her bereaved family members. Om Mani Padme Hung!
About the writer: Tashi Wangchuk is a US based independent filmmaker and TV producer whose earlier works include a feature length film: Richard Gere is My Hero & India’s Doordarshan commissioned film: Democracy in Exile among others.
Tashi Wangkchuk’s documentary MISS TIBET IN EXILE chronicles the making of Miss Tibet 2006 Pageant which Tsering Chungtak won.