Like something out of song from a medieval bard or the worn pages of a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, the real life love story between a blue-eyed girl from Sweden and a curly-haired boy from India was borne from a prophecy.
"In India, it is common for the parents to call an astrologer when a newborn child comes to the planet," Pradyumna Kumar "PK" Mahanandia told NatGeo in 2017. "According to the prophecy, my wife and I were not going to have an arranged marriage like many people in India. My parents were also told that my wife would be from a faraway land and born under the zodiac sign of Taurus, that she would be the owner of a jungle or forest, and that she would be a musician, playing the flute."
That this prophecy, down to every detail, would end up coming true is but one remarkable detail chronicled in the 2017 book "The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love" by Per J. Andersson.
"I believed strongly in the prophecy and now know that everything is planned on this planet," he added.
While Mahanandia's childhood was one he described as filled with love and a deep appreciation for nature, his time away at school taught him the harsh realities of India's caste system.
"I realized very quickly that I was not like the other children," he recalled in an op-ed piece. "Every time I touched someone, they ran away to the river to wash themselves. I was considered impure by the society. I was labeled untouchable, a Dalit."
To block out this organized racism — a system he said regarded him below farm animals and dogs — Mahanandia developed his passion for art.
Love at first brush stroke
In 1975, as a broke, sometimes homeless, art student in Delhi, a young Mahanandia began selling his talents as a street artist. While he briefly discovered fame thanks to opportunities to draw the likes of Indira Ghandi and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, the greatest moment of his life occurred on Dec. 17, 1975. That was the day he met Charlotte Von Schedvin, a young 20-year-old from Sweden who was in the midst of fulfilling a life-long dream to visit and experience India.
"A woman with long beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes approached me," Mahanandia recalled to NatGeo. "It was evening. When she appeared before my easel, I felt as though I didn’t have any weight. Words are not accurate enough to express such a feeling."
Overcome by emotion and certain that this woman was the one, Mahanandia says it took him a total of three separate meetings to paint her portrait without shaking. It was during these sessions, as Charlotte sat still in front of his easel, that he gently quizzed her using the details of the prophecy he had been given as a child. Where was she from? Sweden –– a faraway land. Check. What was her sign? Taurus. Check. Did she play the flute? Both flute and piano. Double check.
As for owning a forest or jungle, it turned out that Von Schedvin's ancestors had been bestowed a portion of forest after helping the king of Switzerland in the 18th century. Like some magical wishlist, her life's story checked all the boxes of the prophecy.
What happened next was a whirlwind of courtship that culminated in a visit to Mahanandia's village and a blessing from his parents to be married. As it turned out, she was completely smitten with the young, curly-haired artist as well. "I didn't think, I just followed my heart 100%," she later told CNN. "There was no logic."
Setting off on the Hippie Trail
The couple remained together for the next three weeks but were then forced to part when Charlotte returned to Sweden. Mahanandia remained in India to complete his final year of art school.
Over a year into their separation, with their romance buoyed by a steady flow of letters, Mahanandia decided he could no longer stand to be apart from his soulmate. He sold everything he owned, said goodbye to his family, and set off with a secondhand bike on an almost 4,000 mile journey from India to Sweden.
For the next five months, Mahanandia made his away along "The Hippie Trail," an alternative tourism route that weaved through countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and parts of Europe. While the Iranian Revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would shortly terminate this popular route for nearly all travelers, Mahanandia's 1977 excursion was fortunately free of strife.
"I was not alone," he told NatGeo. "I never met any person whom I disliked. It was a different time, a different world of love and peace and, of course, freedom. The biggest obstacle was my own thoughts, my doubts."
The various routes of the Hippie Trail. (Photo: NordNordWest/Wikimedia)
In addition to bicycling, Mahanandia also made use of hitchhiking, which was commonplace along the trail. Buses, trains and other forms of public transportation were widely available; as were the hostels, restaurants and local dives that rose up to cater to the waves of tourists from North America, Australia, Japan and Western Europe. As Rory McLean, author of the book "Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India," described it, the trail played host to an eclectic mix of travelers and vehicles.
"For most Intrepids, the trip was the journey of their life — the experience of their life," he said in a 2009 interview with WorldHum. "Just consider how they traveled. A few flew directly to India, but the majority drove east from Europe. War-surplus Jeeps, retired Royal Mail vans, fried-out VW campers, rainbow-colored London double deckers, clapped-out Turkish coaches. I even heard of a Scotsman who drove a Messerschmitt bubble car to India. It was the weirdest procession of unroadworthy vehicles ever to roll and rock across the face of the earth."
And they lived happily ever after...
On the 28th of May, Mahanadia arrived in the city of Borås, Sweden. When he was finally reunited with Charlotte, words failed them both.
"We couldn't speak," he recalled in a video interview. "We just held each other and cried tears of joy."
Now, 40 years and two children later, the couple still reside in Sweden. Mahanandia has enjoyed a prominent career as an artist and even serves as the Odiya Cultural Ambassador of India to Sweden. As for the secret to their undying devotion to one another?
"We have been happily married for more than 40 years, and the secret is there is no secret at all — but simple, heartfelt openness to each other is important and needed to maintain understanding and respect for each other," he wrote in the op-ed. "Marriage is a union not only physically, but also spiritually. Recognizing that allows love to then grow like ripples on water."