I had been to Philadelphia in the USA few months back for work. Whenever I travel, I always look for something different, offbeat experiences. My hotel in Philadelphia had a stand housing various travel, tourism and local attractions related handouts, in the reception area. I collected bunch of them soon after I checked in there. One particular handout caught my attention. The handout was about visiting the area few miles from Philadelphia which has been inhabited by community referred as Amish community. My long standing wish visiting their area was now in my hands. I had a sight Amish people and their settlements long time back when I was traveling via I-95 from Buffalo to Cleveland, but did not have time to stop and explore. I decided to book a tour on the upcoming weekend and booked it with a organization called The Amish Experience, who have been running this for over 50 years now.
What is so different about Amish people? Like many communities in the USA, Amish community immigrated from Europe in the 18th century. This community follows Protestant Christianity, and prefer to maintain lifestyle by opposing modern technologies, continue to depend on agriculture. They are not aborigines like local native American Indians who also follow similar life, but are not Christians. They continue to speak German and follow close community practices to maintain purity. You can find more information on the Internet, example here on Wiki. Due to these reasons they have become point of attraction.
The tour was to start from a town called Lancaster near Philadelphia. It was February. That early Saturday chilly morning, I took Amtrak train to it, from famous and historic train station of Philadelphia which is famously called 30th Street Station. Lancaster is also historic town, which I explored after I returned from Amish tour. After reaching Lancaster station, I took a cab to reach to tour operator’s office.
They operate tours in Amish area which is n the heart of Lancaster’s Amish Country, surrounded by Amish farms between two towns called Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. Very weird named towns, indeed!
The drive from the station was through Lancaster county, which was mostly Amish farmlands on the both sides of the road. After reaching the office, we were taken to a nearby heritage site which had model of typical Amish home, and a farm which also had a horse stable, buggy and cow shed. We were accompanied by tour guide for a tour of two-floored house. We got a glimpse of their clothes, various traditional artifacts inside the house, typical games which Amish kids play, walk-through their kitchen. Amish don’t use electricity, instead they use methane gas powered equipment. They don’t motor cars, but instead would use horses and horse-carts called buggy. This heritage site also had a typical school classroom run by Amish community only where German is first language which is taught to the kids.
The second leg our tour was actual tour of Amish area, their farmland. This also was a guided tour with multiple stop-overs at various places. We got a closer glimpse of farms-lands, diary farms, schools, various children and adults in their typical attire, and also people traveling through buggy. We also visited a gift shop which housed many items created by Amish men and women right from their quilts, diary products such as cheese etc. We also walked through dairy farms, where we saw cows being fed, milking facility etc. Also got a close look at methane gas chamber.
The third and last leg our tour was a show which traced dilemma faced by Amish young fraternity. The show is titled ‘Jacob’s Choice’, which tells the story of young boy named Jacob in Amish family. It is a multi–media show with special effects. This show is held in a special F/X theater which is housed inside their office. This 40 minute compelling story is told through the everyday lives of the Fishers, an Old Order Amish family of today. It is story of three Amish family generations. The viewers see young Jacob’s struggle in choosing the Amish church, or leaving behind family and community for the allure of the modern world.
The viewers also experience the horrendous religious persecution of Amish forefathers and take part in the perilous voyage to America. This is spectacularly portrayed by specials effects consisting of wind, rain, smoke, fire, ghostly and other Disney-like effects that thrill the senses. Jacob’s challenges with faith, tradition, and loved ones in a fast-changing world is a story that touches the viewers. The theater had a magic lantern also and looks like there magic lantern shows conducted. This is was a pleasant surprise to me as I had watched similar show in Pune about which I had written in this blog.
On the way back to Philadelphia, since my Amtrak train was rather late in the evening, I got opportunity to walk over historical downtown of Lancaster town. This town played important role during American Civil War. The Lancaster railway station is also historic. In fact, the station has special gallery of artifacts, photographs depicting this history.
Anyways, this travel back into lives of people called Amish leaves one wondering that even these kinds of things are in ultra-modern country like USA.