'I didn’t realise I was carrying as much emotion as I was' | Eshaan Akbar on the BBC's Pilgrimage © BBC/CTVC

'I didn’t realise I was carrying as much emotion as I was'

Eshaan Akbar on the BBC's Pilgrimage

Comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim, was one of the celebrities taking part in the next series of BBC Two’s Pilgrimage, taking a journey along a route through Wales. Here he talks about going on the adventure with Michaela Strachan, Spencer Matthews, Sonali Shah, Amanda Lovett, Tom Rosenthal and Christine McGuinness.


Did you find/feel/experience what you were hoping to on this pilgrimage?

I went in with no real expectations. I just wanted to throw myself into it. It ended up becoming one of the best experiences of my life.

Any revelations about yourself or your faith?

I was already quite steadfast in what I believed – the pilgrimage further confirmed that our souls/energies persist well beyond the minutiae and prescription of following an organised religion.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I had to buy a lot of walking equipment that is now gathering dust somewhere in my house.

What did you NOT do? In hindsight, was there anything you should have done to prepare yourself?

I should have walked up a massive hill at least once before!

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

Emotionally, allowing myself to open up to other possibilities and not carry my frustration with ‘God’ and the people who vehemently believe in him (in all his guises). Physically, keeping up with everyone and not falling over frequently – I managed one or two of these.

What was your highlight?

The friends I made along the way. Seriously – we’re all still in touch and that’s great. I’ll definitely never forget the feeling at the ponder point – it was truly overwhelming and gave me solace that my mum was with me on the journey.

What about the actual physical route – how would you describe it

The physical route was, on the whole, manageable. Coffin Path was ridiculous, and I was very upset when I got to the top of Snowdon to find that there was a train that would have taken us up there. Seemed like waste of a few hours for me to walk up there.

Did you find the experience emotional/eye-opening/enlightening?

I found it all those things at different points in the journey. I also discovered I’m more resilient than I had given myself credit for.

Were you surprised by any of your reactions to any situations?

Most definitely. I didn’t realise I was carrying as much emotion as I was. I also didn’t realise that I had ignored myself for so long.

Are you affiliated to any religion?

I was raised a Muslim but don’t practise at all.  I’d call myself a lapsed Muslim. Being from a Muslim background plays a big part in personal, professional, and social life, as well as society’s perception of me, so it’s entirely inescapable.

What helps you explain the world?

That most of us don’t extend grace to one another and that the things we think matter don’t matter at all.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

It’s re-affirmed my belief that organised religion just isn’t for me.

Since returning home, have you felt different or engaged in activities around your faith that you would never have previously considered?

I’m trying to, at the very least, celebrate Eid for my dad – I know culturally and socially it’s important to him and it’s the least I can do – I haven’t since my mum passed away.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

It’s made me more open to new challenges. It’s given me the licence to value myself more. And to give myself a pat on the back!

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience?

I learned that I’m more comfortable with uncomfortable surroundings than I give myself credit for; that I’m a valued person in a group.

Did it highlight any particular strengths/weaknesses.

I didn’t know I was that good at bringing people together.

What do you hope Pilgrimage viewers will take away from watching you take part in this series?

That I’m a fun guy, with a deep connection to the goodness of people, who loves his family tremendously. Feeding people is my love language, and that it’s OK to be vulnerable.

Summarise your experience on this pilgrimage.

It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’d love to do it again – with these same Pilgrims.

• Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales starts on BBC Two and iPlayer at 9pm on Friday.

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Published: 27 Mar 2024

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