Jiya Sarai, Katwaria Sarai and Ber Sarai are typical north Indian villages, with their narrow lanes and bylanes and cattle lazing around. But as youngsters coming from outside Delhi are quick to realise, these places are also thriving student hubs in the capital.
Close proximity to some of the best institutes, coaching centres, cheap acommodation and lively peer interaction have turned these once rural areas in south Delhi into suburban havens for students.
"Before coming to Delhi, my friends had already told me about these areas," says Kaushal Kishore, an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) aspirant from Bihar's Hajipur district.
Students come here to prepare for various competitive examinations as well as for getting admission to technical and humanitarian courses. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Jahawarlal Nehru University (JNU) offer them a wide range of subjects.
Anuj Singh, an IES (Indian Engineering Services) aspirant from the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Raipur, says he preferred Ber Sarai "because it is near my coaching centre, IES Made Easy. I can also interact with other students living there and participate in group studies. It is an ideal place for us".
Vir Singh, the owner of IES Made Easy, told IANS: "Seven years earlier, when we launched the institute, Ber Sarai was more or less similar to other suburbs of Delhi.
"With our sincere efforts and remarkable results in competitive examinations, Jiya Sarai, Ber Sarai and other adjoining villages emerged as an educational centre for students from around the country."
These neighbourhoods also offer round-the-clock food stalls and recreational activities. Popular landmarks like Qutab Minar and the PVR Priya cine complex are just about two kilometres away.
The students shell out around Rs.3,000 per room, which is usually shared by two.
"The room rents are cheap here and we can go out for tea breaks even after midnight in between studies. I am sure such facilities are not there in too many other Delhi neighbourhoods," says Rahul Kamble, who is from Nagpur and wants to crack the IAS.
Many shops have in fact mushroomed to cater to the needs of the youngsters.
Rasbihari Choudhary, who shares a room with his friends in Katwaria Sarai, told IANS: "The secondhand book market in Ber Sarai is a major reason why students come here. In addition, Jahawar and Asian bookstores keep a wide range of books that are not easily available elsewhere. Students even from north Delhi come to buy books here."
Neha, a medical student who lives in Ber Sarai, says: "I have been here for the last two years. Earlier I was living as a paying guest in Sarojini Nagar and was always concerned about my safety. But here I feel safe. We can study the whole night. One can see people on the streets even at 2 a.m."
Thanks to the popularity of these neighbourhoods, rents in these areas are beginning to go up. The demand for rooms has also brought prosperity to its original residents.
Ajay Pawar, a house-owner in Ber Sarai, says: "Twelve years ago, people in Ber Sarai were very poor, but with the opening of these coaching centres, students started coming here. Thanks to these students, our condition has considerably improved."
"Though room rents have risen in the recent past, it's not going to make a great impact. Every three-four months, an old building is replaced by a new multi-storey building, but still it's hard to find a single room vacant."
(Deepak Upadhyay can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )