By Monica Laganprsad

After ten years of competing in the Miss India Worldwide pageant, South Africa has finally won the title.

Sarika Sukhdeo, 21, from Havenside in Chatsworth, walked away with the title on Saturday night.

The youngest of five children, Sarika said it has come as a big surprise.

When The Mercury phoned her on Sunday in San Jose in the United States, a sleepy Sarika answered the phone.

"It's 5.30 in the morning and if I awake I'm afraid it might all be a dream. I feel overwhelmed and still shocked because I didn't expect to win. All the girls were beautiful and very talented. I feel proud because I've made history and the title is finally coming to South Africa," she said.

Sukhdeo, a health and beauty therapist, says she doesn't know what to expect from her year of reign.

"I know there will be a great deal of travelling involved and I'm looking forward to that. But it still hasn't quite sunk in yet."

The only thing missing from the perfect evening was her parents.

"When my mother heard, she was hysterical. Both my parents were so excited they started crying. I don't think I've ever seen my father cry before. I can't wait to get home," she said.

Girls from 14 other countries competed in the pageant, and Sukhdeo was also crowned Miss Beautiful Hair.

Miss Sukdheo's hair stylist, Shirley Naidoo, said everybody was very excited.

"The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful. We were all thrilled because it was something we've waited for nearly ten years.

"Everyone's proud of Sarika - she was exceptional," she said.

Miss India Worldwide will be held in Durban next year.