More than 100 beauty queens from around the globe have descended on the northern Chinese mining city of Ordos on the edge of the Gobi desert ahead of the Miss World final this Saturday.
Built on the arid and sparsely populated steppes of Inner Mongolia and around 700 kilometres (440 miles) from the nearest beach, Ordos makes an unlikely setting for the world's biggest beauty pageant.
But that will not stop the 116 contestants — the highest number ever — from donning their finest evening gowns and swimwear on Saturday night for the contest, which is watched annually by around a billion people around the globe.
Ordos has grown rich over the last decade on the back of a coal mining boom that has transformed it from a sandstorm-afflicted backwater into one of China's wealthiest cities.
The boom triggered a frenzy of building in the city, but the local government has been unable to fill the vast tower blocks that have sprung up, earning it the title of China's biggest ghost town.
Reigning Miss World Ivian Sarcos of Venezuela will hand over her crown on Saturday in the futuristic Ordos stadium, which sits alongside a vast town square dedicated to legendary Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan.
The beauty queens have been in China rehearsing for nearly a month, soaking up traditional Mongolian culture by churning yoghurt in a nomadic yurt dwelling, and donning local dress to mount a sand dune, according to Miss World's website.
Contestants vying for this year's title include a Kazakh doctor and a Peruvian medical student, but the bookmakers are tipping Miss Mexico, 20-year-old Mariana Reynoso, for the crown.
"There's a lot of good feeling surrounding the Mexican contestant," said Tony Kenny, spokesman for bookmaker William Hill, which is offering odds of 2/1 on Reynoso.
Other favourites include Miss China and Miss Nepal, with other countries lagging so far behind as to be "more or less write offs", according to Alex Donohue of rival bookmaker Ladbrokes.
While the popularity of the contest, first held in 1951, has waned in the West, continued interest in in Asian countries ensures that the final rakes in a global television audience of more than a billion viewers.
Sweden's Kiki Hakansson was the first Miss World, while Oscar-winning US actress Halle Berry was a finalist in 1986 and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai took the crown in 1994.
Venezuela has produced the most Miss Worlds, with six titleholders, while India and Britain claim five titles each.
China has already hosted the competition five times, most recently in 2010 on the tropical southern island of Hainan.
In 2002, the pageant was moved from Nigeria to Britain after more than 200 people died in clashes sparked when a newspaper suggested the Prophet Mohammed would have chosen a wife from among the contestants had he been alive.