image captionNausheen snaps herself in the mirror of a lift. She endured constant dread it could all go wrong

Safehouses. Teenage Taliban guards. Anxious waits for embassy calls. Airport chaos. And throughout, the constant fear this could end in disaster for you and your loved ones.

This is the story of Nausheen and her struggle to find a way out of Kabul as the Taliban took charge of the Afghan capital. Her name has been changed to protect her and her family.

I'm speaking to Nausheen by phone. It's the afternoon of Saturday the 21st of August. She has been sitting inside a minibus outside Kabul airport for almost 20 hours, with no access to food or a toilet, in a desperate attempt to board a military aircraft as part of India's emergency evacuation plan.

But this is not the final chapter. Far from it. How did it come to this?

Rewind to 15 August. Nausheen, an Indian married to an Afghan with relatives in both countries, is booked on an Air India flight on the 19th from Kabul to Delhi. But as the Taliban take over Kabul, all commercial flights, including hers, are cancelled.

She wakes on the 15th to find that most embassies have shut down overnight and their staff are fleeing at the first possible opportunity.

Her husband wants her out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. She grabs her passport and blue chadari (burqa) and, with her husband, rushes to the Indian embassy to ask about evacuation flights.

"When we reached the Indian embassy, luckily it was still functional. But you could sense the tension in the air. They were destroying all the documents and burning all paperwork. The staff told us they would continue working until that evening. I wanted to get visas for the rest of my family here in Afghanistan. They asked me to come back in the evening with passports and other documents. So I went back home.

"People were running haphazardly fearing the Taliban. My husband held my hand, and we ran towards our home. It felt as if the entire city was out on the street, running towards the airport. It was horrific. When I reached home, the security staff of the building had changed from proper uniforms to kurta-pyjamas. My building was surrounded by the Taliban."

Nausheen and her husband pick up documents and go back to the embassy. Luckily they also get visas for the rest of the family.

Then begins the wait for that phone call from the Ministry of External Affairs of the government of India. As an Indian, she is on her country's priority list.  

"I got a message from the ministry on 19 August. I needed to reach (a location we cannot reveal for security reasons) where many others who were part of the evacuation plan were to assemble. I was leaving behind my whole family, and it wasn't easy. But my family was concerned about my safety and there was hardly any time to think. We had been asked to carry only a small handbag. So, I picked up my laptop, hard drives, phone, a power bank and left."

There are 220 other passengers at the safe house, waiting to be evacuated. Indian Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and a few Afghan families as well.

But the safehouse does not feel secure and the next two days are filled with anxiety.

"There were no arrangements, we had no information on when we would get evacuated. No security was given to us inside the safehouse. In fact, the Taliban were standing outside guarding us, so that no other fringe groups could attack us. We felt very vulnerable. We couldn't sleep out of fear."

A sudden evacuation order comes at 22:00 on 20 August. In the next hour and a half, some 150 passengers leave for the airport in seven minibuses.

"We were escorted by the Taliban. One car led us from the front, and another was behind. We reached the airport around 00:30. Large crowds were desperately waiting outside in an attempt to flee the country. The Taliban were firing rounds from one side and from the other the Americans were firing tear gas shells to control the crowd. We were taken to the northern gate, which is mostly used by the military."

But they are now denied access into the airport by the Americans who control it. They spend the night in the buses, with no evacuation plan in effect.

"There were children, women and sick people with us. We were stranded on the road. Some women had their periods, but we had no access to the toilet. We were sitting in an open space, and anyone could have attacked us."

It is about to get worse.

image captionNausheen took a secret snap of one Taliban guard. She said some appeared only teenagers

"At 9:30 on 21 August, the Taliban came to our buses and started questioning our co-ordinator. They snatched his phone and slapped him. We didn't know what was going on.

"We were driven to an industrial area where we were detained. These were very young Taliban men, some looked as young as 17 or 18. We were scared for our lives and thought it was all over. Those few hours were the most dangerous of my life. We thought we won't be able to meet our family again. We won't be able to go home."

Men and women are made to sit separately in a park. The Taliban take away passports and start questioning them. The Indian women married to Afghans are separated from the rest of the Indians.

"I said 'I am an Indian and would prefer being with Indians' to which they said I must stay with the Afghans. I started fearing what they were going to do to my Indian brothers and sisters. What if they take them somewhere and do something to them?

"One Taliban asked me – why do you want to leave this country? We are trying to build it. He asked if I would come back to Afghanistan. I said no, we are scared of you. They reassured us that there's nothing to fear and gave us water to drink but made no eye contact.

"Later, they told us that there was a security threat, and they were ensuring that we were safe. I also received a message from a friend from the Indian group that I was separated from, and she told me that the Taliban fed them and took good care of them."

A Taliban spokesperson later tells Afghan media they had detained the passengers because they had suspicions and wanted to ensure everyone's safety and security – rejecting reports of a kidnapping.

image captionThe Taliban took Nausheen and others from the airport but denied they had been kidnapped

After a couple of hours, Nausheen is put on a bus with Afghans and other Indian women married to Afghans. The other Indian groups join them on their way back to the airport. At 14:00, they are back at the northern gate and the wait to enter the airport begins all over again.

"The Ministry of External Affairs was trying to get us inside the airport, but it wasn't working. I felt very angry that we had informed them about our detention by the Taliban and how stranded we felt but still nothing was being done about it. We are not aware of what negotiations were happening behind closed doors but as someone who was stuck there, I felt desperate and vulnerable.

"If they weren't sure, they shouldn't have asked us to come out of our homes. We would have been hiding inside our homes. We won't have stepped out in so much danger. Now we are out in the open."

It's still the 21st. It's been horrible but things are not slowing down. They are still outside the airport.

At 17:00 Nausheen's group is informed by the Ministry of External Affairs it will be taken inside the airport in the next 15 to 20 minutes. It doesn't happen.

At 18:00 another call comes from the ministry. They are asked to go back to the safehouse.

Sleepless, hungry and emotionally broken, Nausheen is told the evacuation might happen later in the night. But they have been told that so often. They have been without sleep for three days and some have young children.

At 20:00, exhausted and disheartened, Nausheen decides to go back home.

Later, a group of Indians and Afghans are successfully evacuated on an Indian Airforce C-17. Nausheen has missed out.

"I was told by others that it happened very quickly. They were taken back to the airport soon after they reached the safehouse. They had no time to inform me, and I got left behind. Now they all are inside the airport. I don't want to be harsh on myself for leaving the safehouse. We were mentally and physically drained."

The next day, the 22nd, Nausheen is contacted twice by the Ministry of External Affairs and her name is added to a new list of people to be evacuated. And on 23 August she is contacted by the ministry at 02:30 and told to reach at a particular location by 05:30.

image captionThe airport itself was chaos, as Afghans flooded it, desperate to flee

At 08:00, two minibuses, with a capacity of 21 seats each but carrying up to 80 passengers, reach the main gate of Hamid Karzai International airport. The scene outside is no better than before.

"A large number of people were still trying their luck. We saw the Taliban lashing people with whips. They were firing in the air. We were asked to keep all windows shut and curtains drawn. It was scary. There were Taliban members at the main gate, and we saw some even inside the main gate. We were brought further in and could see American soldiers. They were waving at us. Some Indian officials came to check our passports."

It's 11:20. Nausheen and the others are sitting on the tarmac waiting for an Indian aircraft to get permission from the Americans to land.

After an hour she says she is inside a military aircraft heading to Tajikistan and her phone soon switches off.

Nausheen arrives at Delhi's Indira Gandhi international Airport at 09:40 India time on 24 August. It's been a hellish nine-day ordeal.

I call her soon after she lands and say "welcome home".

She breaks down.

"I don't know what to make of this. I'm here but my husband, my family are still in Afghanistan. It's only sinking in now what horror I've been through. While we were in Kabul, we didn't have a minute to think about all that was going on but once we landed in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), things started sinking in. I'm numb. I'm now praying that my husband and in-laws also get evacuated soon. Until then, I won't feel I'm home."