Nepal to hold beauty contest for elephants

Kathmandu: Nepal has the highest mountain in the world and now, the Himalayan republic is going to win another jumbo distinction when it holds the world`s "biggest" beauty pageant -- for elephants.

From Dec 26, Nepal`s ‘Elephant Land’, the hot and fertile Terai plains in the south, will hold the three-day Chitwan Elephant Festival where the gentle giants will take part in a football tourney, sprint and catwalk to the delight of hundreds of tourists.

The Miss Jumbo contest, tentatively scheduled for Dec 27, will have nearly 10 elephant cubs ramp-walking, showing off their talents and displaying their special "dresses".

"Seven years ago, we were inspired by the camel races in India`s Jaipur city," says Shankar Sainju, president of Regional Hotel Association of Nepal`s Chitwan chapter.

"Since our district Chitwan has an abundance of elephants, we decided to start elephant races to attract and entertain tourists. That`s how the Chitwan Elephant Festival began."

After it became a hit with visitors, the organisers decided to add a new attraction during the third edition of the event and elephant soccer came into being. This year, four jumbo teams representing four Nepali banks will take part in the tourney.

"This year, since the festival is a precursor to Nepal Tourism Year 2011, we decided to add something new and novel," Sainju told reporters. "We decided to add an elephant beauty pageant."

Elephant cubs are being assiduously groomed by their mahouts for the spectacle. A panel of five judges will scrutinise their ability to do the `namaste`, walk on two feet and dance.

As part of the talent round, they will have to pick up coins and flowers and perform other tricks.

Since there`s little time, the contestants would not get spectacular dresses but the mahouts will try to compensate by drawing intricate designs on their bodies with coloured chalk.

While the winning beauty gets a trophy of sugarcane, the mahout will get cash.

There are 43 elephants in Chitwan owned by private hotels and resorts and 50 owned by the government. These are one of the greatest attractions of Chitwan, used for elephant safaris.

The one jarring note comes from the mahouts` threat to go on strike demanding higher pay and perks.

Since Sunday, the giant animals had been taking part in trade union activities as well, blocking the highway with their mahouts to press their demands.

Sainju said he was optimistic that the mahouts, who had shelved their protest to allow the elephant polo tournament to be held unobstructed, would cooperate.

"We have started talks with them," he said. "The elephant festival is intended to bring prosperity to the entire Sauraha region and they will benefit from the prosperity as well."


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