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The man who cycled from India to Europe for love – BBC News



  • By Vikas Pandey
  • BBC News, Delhi

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, PK Mahanandia met Charlotte Von Schedvin in Delhi for the first time in 1975

Indian artist PK Mahanandia met Charlotte Von Schedvin on a winter evening in Delhi in 1975 when she asked him to draw her portrait.

What eventually followed was an epic bicycle journey from India to Europe – all for love.

Ms Von Schedvin was visiting India as a tourist when she spotted Mr Mahanandia in Delhi’s Connaught Place district.

He had made a name for himself as a sketch artist and enjoyed a good reputation in the local press.

Intrigued by his claim of “making a portrait in 10 minutes”, she decided to give it a try.

But she wasn’t impressed with the result and decided to come back the next day.

Image source, PK Mahnandia

Image caption, Mr Mahanandia had already made a name for himself through his sketches

The next day sadly, proved no better.

In his defence, Mr Mahanandia says he had been preoccupied with a prediction his mother had made several years ago.

As a schoolboy growing up in a village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, he often faced discrimination from upper-caste students because he was a Dalit – considered to be at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, Several newspapers wrote about his art in the 1970s

Whenever he felt sad, his mother would tell him that according to his horoscope, he would someday marry a woman “whose zodiac sign would be Taurus, she would come from a far away land, she would be musical and would own a jungle”.

So when he met Ms Von Schedvin, he immediately remembered his mother’s predictions and asked her if she owned a jungle.

Ms Von Schedvin, whose family comes from Swedish nobility, replied that she did own a forest and added that not only was she “musical” (she liked to play the piano) her zodiac sign was also Taurus.

“It was an inner voice that said to me that she was the one. During our first meeting we were drawn to each other like magnets. It was love at first sight,” Mr Mahanandia told the BBC.

“I still don’t know what made me ask her the questions and then invite her for tea. I thought she would complain to the police.”

But her reaction turned out to be quite the opposite.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, Charlotte Von Schedvin loved the Indian countryside

“I thought he was honest and wanted to know why he had asked me those questions,” Ms Von Schedvin told the BBC.

After several conversations, she agreed to visit Orissa with him.

“I became emotional when PK showed me the Konark. I had this image of the temple stone wheel framed in my student room back in London, but I had no idea where this place actually was. And here I was standing in front of it.”

The two fell in love and returned to Delhi after spending a few days in his village.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, He also made portraits of politicians, including this one of acting Indian President BD Jatti

“She wore a sari when she met my father for the first time. I still don’t know how she managed. With blessings from my father and family, we got married according to tribal tradition,” he said.

Ms Von Schedvin had driven to Delhi with her friends from Sweden along the famous hippie trail – crossing Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan – to reach India in 22 days.

She said goodbye to him to start her return journey, but made him promise that he would follow her to her home in the Swedish textile town of Boras.

More than a year passed and the two kept in touch through letters.

Mr Mahanandia however, did not have enough money to buy a plane ticket.

So, he sold everything he owned, bought a bicycle and followed her along the same hippie trail.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, PK Mahanandia says he faced no difficulties in Afghanistan during his journey

His journey started on 22 January 1977 and he would cycle for around 70km (44 miles) every day.

“Art came to my rescue. I made portraits of people and some gave me money, while others gave me food and shelter,” he said.

Mr Mahanandia remembers the world as being very different in the 1970s. For instance, he did not need a visa to enter most countries.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, He made portraits of fellow artists, students and common people during his journey in Afghanistan

“Afghanistan was such a different country. It was calm and beautiful. People loved arts. And vast parts of the country were not populated,” he said.

He said that people understood Hindi in Afghanistan, but communication became a problem once he entered Iran.

“Again art came to my rescue. I think love is the universal language and people understand that.”

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, Several hotels provided facilities like washing rooms and bicycle repairing on the hippie trail in Afghanistan

“Those were different days. I think people had more free time then to entertain a wanderer like me.”

But did he ever feel tired?

“Yes, very often. My legs would hurt. But the excitement of meeting Charlotte and seeing new places kept me going,” he said.

He finally reached Europe on 28 May – via Istanbul and Vienna, and then travelled to Gothenburg by train.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, PK Mahanandia continues to work as an artist in Sweden

After several cultural shocks and difficulties in impressing Ms Von Schedvin’s parents, the two finally got officially married in Sweden.

“I had no idea about European culture. It was all new to me, but she supported me in every step. She is just a special person. I am still in love just as I was in 1975,” he says.

The 64-year-old now lives with Charlotte and their two children in Sweden and continues to work as an artist.

Image source, PK Mahanandia

Image caption, PK and Charlotte Mahanandia in 2014

But he still doesn’t understand “why people think it was a big deal to cycle to Europe”.

“I did what I had to, I had no money but I had to meet her. I was cycling for love, but never loved cycling. It’s simple.”

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