A few months ago, Dattaraj Khandeparker, a taxi driver-cum-guide at the Doodhsagar Falls in Mollem, South Goa, couldn’t tell one spider from another. To be honest, he couldn’t have cared less as he took batches of tourists through the Mollem National Park, something he had been doing for the last three years. But a chance meeting between him and other guides at Mollem and the range forest officer, Amar Heblekar, changed their lives. Heblekar decided to turn this motley band of high-school dropout tour operators into wildlife experts.
With permission and funds from the Goa Forest Department, Heblekar arranged a workshop. He was aware these youngsters had already been identified as troublemakers. The Doodhsagar Tour Operators Union (DTOU), as the guides called themselves, monopolised the business, charged unreasonable rates and were also accused of threatening tourists.