A dozen people in Hong Kong scrambled up a steel tower covered in buns Monday, reviving a religious ritual banned 26 years ago when the former British colonial government declared it too dangerous.

A similar tower constructed out of bamboo collapsed in 1978, injuring over 100 climbers and onlookers, but the government allowed the tradition to be resurrected this year in a bid to lure visitors to Hong Kong's colorful islands.

The event on Hong Kong's fishing island of Cheung Chau commemorates islanders who died in a bubonic plague in the 19th century. The sweet buns were supposed to cure all illnesses.

The 14-meter (42 foot) tower was covered with more than 1,000 buns for Monday's contest.

The 12 climbers were given three minutes to collect as many as they could, with buns at the top earning more points than those lower down.

At the stroke of midnight, the 10 men and 2 women -- most of them rock climbing enthusiasts -- clambered up the tower, stuffing as many buns as they could into their backpacks.

It was the first time women had been allowed to take part in the tradition.

Unlike previous contests the climbers were made to wear safety harnesses.

More than 20,000 people flocked to the island during the day to catch the action, even though the government had warned that the small seafront venue could accommodate only 1,000.

The majority ended up watching the event on two giant screens in other parts of Cheung Chau, but they didn't seem to mind.

"This was banned even before I was born and I really want to see it," one schoolgirl told television reporters. The event was also shown live on television.


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