There I was, in one of the last remnants of the once powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire, waiting at a 19th-century train station at the outskirts of its long gone border. There I was, to witness a horde of eager Hungarian pilgrims waving flags and roaring to a defeating thunder as the train approaches to a stop. The final stop? Ghimes Romania, the last bastion of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
It seemed like a victory parade with pilgrim passengers sticking their heads out of the train windows with maddening zest as they greet their fellow pilgrims while the train blows an unusual whistle bellowing a very loud, unique and audible sound.
When the doors open the masses flood out of the train, like blowing a hole in a dam and the water rushed out. They are met with a resounding hail storm of claps and hugs as they are welcomed by strangers and family alike. They slowly meander their way down the road where they would walk another 2 kilometers to the last bastion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and celebrate their heritage of a once glorious domain now part of the history of the country that is Romania.
Every year thousands of Hungarians make their pilgrimage to Csíksomlyó and to celebrate the Pentecost. The next day, several pilgrims make their way towards the last train station in Ghimeș built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to meet with a special train equipped with extra cars carrying Hungarians to the former border of Hungary in Transylvania, in the Szekler country.
I was fortunate enough to have been invited by friends of mine, Cornelius, and Eva to attend the event at Eva’s village, Ghimeș, in Harghita County. The day before, I had also attended the Csíksomlyó pilgrimage.
The next day is part of a growing tradition that started over a decade ago where Hungarians flock to the old Austro-Hungarian border. Some pilgrims are dressed in traditional Hungarian attire as they chant and yell various slogans I can’t comprehend.
So many cops
The traffic of the masses is controlled by Romanian police who are lined up to a stretch of nearly 2 kilometers. Cars are directed the opposite way to avoid collisions from the swarms of people on the road. Perhaps the police are there to placate an extreme sense of nationalism from the Hungarians. Or maybe they are there to prevent a riot from taking hold. Who knows. To them, this is Székely land.
Regardless, it was a peaceful event with no incident. Hungarians were simply reminiscing of their once glorious empire and celebrating their culture. They end their march to a location where a Hungarian village shares a border with a Romanian village.
There’s an old lookout fortification that you can climb to have a better view of the countryside. There are tents alive with merchants selling local delicacies such as the Pine Bark cheese called Burduf, a type of cheese aged inside a small casing of pine bark.
The scenery here is beyond words. It’s the quintessential Transylvanian scenery with thickly forested mountains married to lush green hills with a pastoral backdrop from a bygone era. The people here still lead simple lives. You’ll see cattle and herds of sheep basking in the hills. The industry is still largely agrarian.
If I could make a comparison, I would say it’s similar to the Swiss Alps. There are green rolling hills as far as the eye can see with quaint villages thrown in for measure. The clean crisp air smells of pine trees and freshly tilled earth. A pleasant escape from the modern world off concrete jungles.
I can’t help but think the Hungarians from Budapest take the special train to bask in this beautiful paradise more so than to do a pilgrimage and there I was, to appreciate it with them.
EXPLORE GHIMES (FAGET)
- It’s a road less traveled destination even in Romania, even Romanians know very little about it.
- The closest city is Mircurea-Ciuc and it’s only 42 Kilometers away, 45 minutes by car.
- It’s a relatively flat route with a small mountain to climb before it goes down to the valley where the village lies.
- There are several trains departing from Brasov to Mircurea-Ciuc takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.