Terrestrial. Whole plant 7 to 12 cm in height. Tubers large, ellipsoid, hairy, 1.5 to 3 cm long. Leaves two, opposite, sessile, unequal, orbicular, attached at the base of the stem, one of them noticeably larger than the other, 1.5 to 3.5 cm long and between 1.5 to 2 cm in width. . Flowers 2 to 4 in a minutely puberulous raceme, longer than the stem.
Flower 2 cm across. Sepals unequal, dorsal ovate, acute, erect and arching over the petals to form a hood; lateral longer than the dorsal, lanceolate, margins undulate, spreading. Petals lanceolate, as long as the dorsal sepal, erect. Lip divided into three lobes; middle one shorter and boarder than the lateral ones, pointing downwards, linear with blunt apex; lateral ones almost 1.5 times longer than the middle one, diverging to its apex, with its tip curved or even coiled. Spur longer than the ovary, cylindrical with its apex curved forward, swollen and blunt. Floral bract as long and arising from the upper side of the ovary, lanceolate, minutely puberulous, its apex curved.
Flower green throughout except to the outer portion of the sepals that are of a darker shade. Floral bract pale green.
A species, King and Pantling found at altitudes around 10,000 to 11,000 ft. I was hoping to find it during my alpine flower hunt days. A local from the alpine village of my base camp had identified the plant from the voluminous book of King and Pantling. He remembered the location where he had encountered the plant in the previous year. As the location was above 12,000 ft I was of the opinion that the flowers will appear only in the mid of the summer months. Every time when he insisted on a trip to the location I postponed it to tune it with the mid-summer days. By the mid of July we made a trip, sadly to see the whole habitat destroyed by a landslide. However, I was confident I might encounter this species from some other locations.
The further the Sun moves to the north pole, the more the spurting of flowers in the high mountains. According to the Sun and the flower appearing I shift my camp to the various locations in the high hills. I was camping in a valley above 13,500 ft and everyday walked another 7 to 10 km climbing up to 16,000 ft and return to the camp in the evening. As several of the species were to be observed every day, the days were hectic, each minute was so valuable and every trip was meticulously planned. During that month a local festival was being organized by the local village community in the valley. There will be no visitors from elsewhere due to the location’s high altitudinal range and the difficulty in reaching there. The only attraction was that all the villagers (less than 50 individuals) join the festivity. As I was new to that particular area and that was my first high alpine visit, I decided to attend the festival. My two assistants and I decided to go there with a single tent and a few kitchen utensils and consumable items for three days. One of my assistants stayed back to guard our main camp. We planned to pitch our tent some distance ahead of the festival site in the valley. The reason was to enable me to perform more surveys on the higher hills. However, the chosen location was deprived of any streams and we have to walk long distance to bring water for cooking. As we were only three, not much of water was needed and we decided to pitch the tent there itself. Day one went off with no find of any orchids. On the second day we all three went to the stream in the morning to freshen up. As we were returning with water, I found 7 plants of this species, it’s peculiar “opposite arrangements” of its leaves helped me to identify it. The plants were small and there were no signs of any buds. On comparison with the drawings from the monumental book of King and Pantling I ascertained it would take another 15 to 20 days for it to be in flower. We were there for the festival till its end and returned the day after. On the way back, as we were negotiating a steep descend I found several of this species in bloom next to a huge boulder. It was so surprising that the previous days find were all without even buds and the next day we were able to locate them in flowers, that too not far away from the first location. The next three hours went with all sorts of note makings, drawings, and documentation. However, back in the camp, when I transferred the photographs to my computer, I was not satisfied with the results. Hence, decided to make a trip the very next day. It took two more trips to produce a photograph of my desire. This is one of the few species which made my head spin for a perfect photograph.
King, G. & Pantling, R. (1898). The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalayas. Ann. Roy. Bot. Garden. (Calcutta). Habenaria aitchisoni Reichb., Page no 311 – 312.