The times are changing for the Miss Nepal beauty pageant.

The life of one Nepali woman changes overnight every year. Every year, one woman takes home the crown of Miss Nepal and the morning after, her life is no longer the same. She becomes news, a famous face and the one to represent the nation in the international stage. 

The Miss Nepal beauty pageant is a platform like no other. Perhaps echoing the thoughts of her predecessors and those who came after her, Miss Nepal 2009 Zenisha Moktan says, “Miss Nepal is a unique experience that no amount of money can buy. Once you win it, you turn into an overnight celebrity – you have everything on your plate.” 

It is the 20th anniversary celebration and most of the Miss Nepals, the organizers of the pageant from The Hidden Treasure and well-wishers of the event have come together at Radisson Hotel to celebrate the occasion. 

“In 20 years, this is the first speech that I am giving. It took 20 years for me to welcome you all,” says Chairman of The Hidden Treasure, Gopal Sundarlal Kakshapati, addressing the gathering. It was Kakshapati and one of the current directors of The Hidden Treasure, Rupesh Pradhan who first discussed the possibility of organizing a Miss Nepal beauty pageant in Nepal, after their visit to India in 1993 to see how Miss India was being organized. 

The first Miss Nepal was organized in 1994. Although the idea was taken positively by many, the execution was a challenge. Kakshapati recalls how inadequately prepared the team was when they organized the first event. It was difficult even to find the Masters of Ceremony to host the event but fortunately, veteran television journalist, Bina Gurung and hotelier Yogendra Shakya agreed to take on the responsibility. “The rehearsal was a big disaster, everything went wrong. The lights, the stage, the choreography - everything was poorly synchronized,” Kakshapati shares. “On the final day, the event was to be aired live on Nepal Television from 4:30pm, the guests started coming in at 4:15 and we were still painting the stage until 4:20pm. Don’t ask me how, but somehow, the event was successful,” he adds. 
From finding sponsors to getting resource people to organize the pageant to having to deal with protestors – there were a lot of hurdles that the pageant had to overcome. The twenty year journey hasn’t been all easy. There were times when the event did not take place at all due to security reasons. Protesting groups threatened the organizers to go to extremes if the event was held. 

But despite all that, Miss Nepal pageants continued. 

Shweta Singh, Miss Nepal 1999, has recently been involved with The Hidden Treasure as its CEO. Singh, who was involved with the Miss Nepal pageant as a trainer since 2004 but is now more involved with the pageant as she aims to bring a new twist in the journey of Miss Nepal. 

In a meeting room at The Hidden Treasure’s Office in Thapathali, where two walls are lined up with portraits of all the Miss Nepals, the ‘Hall of Fame’, Singh recalls her own journey with Miss Nepal and talks about how the pageant has changed over time. She has been with the pageant as a contestant, a winner, a trainer and now as the CEO of the organizing institution. 

In organizing the beauty pageant, Singh says that every year has been a hit and trial experiment. The pageant has room for improvement and every year, the organizers try to make improvements, wherever they can. “For example, we still haven’t been able to identify the best dress designer for the pageant. Every year, we experiment with designers in order to find someone we are satisfied with,” shares Singh. 

One major change for the beauty pageant is the fact that they now have a dedicated CEO, who has been there and done that, to take up the responsibilities. “We have 11 members on the Board but being business tycoons and personalities who are engaged in their own fields, they do not have the time to give a lot of attention to Miss Nepal,” says Singh, who is the first female to be on the Board of The Hidden Treasure. “I am ready to spend time and take Miss Nepal further in a different way,” she adds. 
When it comes to the idea of Miss Nepal, the perception and value of the beauty pageant has changed over time with the change in society. “In the 90’s, Miss Nepal did not enjoy the respect it has garnered today. Back in the days, we would sometimes feel ashamed to call ourselves Miss Nepal because it was looked at in a negative light,” recalls Singh, adding that the pageant itself was also not very competitive back then. “There were 15 to 16 participants during my time and you could literally point out who would win. But it is not like that anymore. Nowadays, there is a lot of competition and we have unexpected winners,” she adds. According to her, from the year 2003, the competition level has increased. You could no longer be sure which of the girls would take home the crown. The competition was cut-throat. 

This just hints at the quality of the participants who enter the beauty pageant. It is not surprising that even in the international platforms such as Miss World, Miss Nepals have been performing well and even winning titles in recent years.

The first ever achievement in an international beauty pageant, says Singh, was when Miss Nepal runner up 2003, Prerana Shah made it to the Top Ten of Miss Asia Pacific 2003 held in The Phillipines. In recent years, Miss Nepal 2012 Shristi Shrestha made it to the Top 30 in the overall contest and to the Top 10 for three different titles of Miss World 2012 held in China. Miss Nepal 2013 Ishani Shrestha brought home the title of ‘Beauty with a purpose’, was the second runner-up for the ‘Mulit-media Award’ and placed in the Top 10 in the overall contest at Miss World 2013 held in Indonesia. 

“The key word for me has been hard work,” says Miss Nepal 2012, Shristi Shrestha who thinks she was lucky to have had the opportunity to train both in Nepal as well as abroad in preparation for the Miss World Pageant. “We have to believe that we are just as good as anyone else and keep a positive attitude’, says Shrestha who also recognizes that in recent years, it has been easier for Miss Nepals to get resources and training because of which, they are more prepared for the international stage. Shrestha opines, “We are all strong, independent and empowered women,” and believes that it is the circumstances that were different for the Miss Nepals over the years. “Society has changed and become more open minded. How people look at beauty pageants has evolved. This generation of Miss Nepals receive a lot more respect,” says Shrestha.

CEO Shweta Singh, who belongs to the 90’s decade of Miss Nepals and has perhaps experienced a very different Miss Nepal term than those who were crowned after her, talks about how there is a wider scope for Miss Nepals nowadays. Back then, she shares, there were limited options when it came to deciding the career path after becoming Miss Nepal. “What to do after Miss Nepal? Become a heroine. There weren’t any other prospects,” says Singh.  But today, Miss Nepals get a variety of opportunities and they can pick and chose what they want to do.

“Miss Nepals today definitely get more respect and recognition that we did, back in our days. Also, in terms of resources, they now have a lot more. In my time, I remember having to arrange everything on my own to take part in the Miss World contest. The girls today have everything on a platter,” says Singh who is now working to make sure things are even easier and more professional with Miss Nepal beauty pageants. 

Having said that, Singh also believes that performing in the Miss World pageant is very individualistic. “When in a group, you will get lost if you don’t reach out. That is why you have to grab all the opportunities you get and stand out,” says Singh who is confident that Miss Nepals will perform better in international pageants in the coming years.

Miss Nepal 2014 Subin Limbu and 1st runner up Miss Nepal 2014, Prinsha Shrestha will be leaving for Miss World and Miss Earth, respectively, before November this year while 2nd runner up, Miss Nepal 2014, Sonie Rajbhandari will leave for the Miss International pageant in mid-October. 
The journey of Miss Nepal looks set to lead them though brighter paths to achieve bigger milestones in the years to come.