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Mexico City Tenochtitlan Mask Wall

Templo Mayor – Tenochtitlan Ruins – Mexico City

In the heart of Mexico City’s Centro Historico district, the ancient Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, lies the ruins of Templo Mayor. Today, what remains is only ruins, but the site was once one of the most important temples in the Aztec Empire. It is now a great look into Aztec and Mesoamerican culture and history in the center of the now bustling Mexico City.

Templo Mayor Ruins and Metropolitan Cathedral

Getting In

Our path to visiting Templo Mayor was part of a much longer and bigger day. Because of the way that we went, it seemed to be far more complicated to get into the archaeological site than it actually is.

We had approached from the west, on the north side of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Zocalo Square. There is an elevated walkway that goes around the north side of the site and offers decent views of the ruins – but it didn’t seem to offer any actual entrances.

We walked the entire outer boundary of the ruins, but with no luck. At one point, we thought we found the entrance, but it actually turned out to be the exit. The exit is surprisingly more elaborate and conspicuous than the entrance. Most likely, it served as the entrance at one time.

Not the entrance to Templo Mayor

Regardless, the actual entrance to Templo Mayor is on the south side of the compound, and can easily be accessed via the east side of the Metropolitan Cathedral.

We were wearing shawls and hoods, not because it was cold – but because of pretty bad sunburns we received the previous day at Teotihuacan.

Kyle at Templo Mayor
Briana at Templo Mayor

Need To Know

  • Address: Seminario 8, Centro Histórico, Cuauhtémoc, 06060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
  • Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 09:00 – 17:00 / Closed Mondays
  • Cost: $70 Pesos (~ $4 USD) for adults. Free for children under 13, Mexican students and educators, and seniors.
  • No food, water, or umbrellas are allowed – free stowage is provided at entrance.
  • Photography is allowed.

Entering the Ruins

Templo Mayor archaeological site

Once you exit the entry building, you arrive to the ruins of Templo Mayor itself. We broke this up into two different viewing times: once before, and once after visiting the Templo Mayor Museum. This may not seem intuitive at first, but it actually does serve a purpose.

We entered a small, elevated walkway and explored the ruins some. There are plaques, but upon initial viewing, you don’t walk away with much understanding. But this is okay! It piques your interest for the monster to come that is the Templo Mayor Museum.

Kyle and Briana at Templo Mayor

History of Templo Mayor

Legend says that the Aztecs were in search of a location to build their city. In a vision, the king was told to found their city when they found an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake. The next day, that is what they saw. The city of Tenochtitlan was founded sometime around 1325 CE with the main temple built at the site the eagle was seen.

Rediscovery

The site is a very large and robust archaeological site, still undergoing excavation today. On some days, you may even see archaeologists hard at work to recover more artifacts. Much of the site is buried beneath the Metropolitan Cathedral, Zocalo Square, the Palace, and other colonial buildings.

Archaeologists Working at Templo Mayor

However, in 1978, electric workers came across the massive stone monolith while digging. Work stopped, and a special study ensued from 1978 to 1982 to determine if the site was worth studying. At the end of the study, it was deemed a very well preserved and intact site, which lead to the demolition of 13 buildings. The ruins remain as found, with small artifacts housed in the adjoining Templo Mayor Museum.

Modern sewer pipe in the ruins of Templo Mayor

The coup-de-grace of Templo Mayor is the massive pyramid that once stood 200 feet tall. It went through seven different construction phases, each phase building a new pyramid atop the old.

Staircase ruins at Templo Mayor

Spanish Conquest

When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, lead by Hernan Cortes, they saw the seventh phase of the pyramid. It was topped with two temples: one to Huitzilopochtli – the god of war and sun; and one to Tlaloc – the god of water. They were impressed at the number and grandeur of the temples, but were revolted at the beliefs of the Aztecs and human sacrifice.

Ruins of Templo Mayor

In 1519, the Spaniards began a war against the Aztecs that would rage on in bloody conflict until Tenochtitlan fell in 1521. Cortes ordered the destruction of the city – and of the temple – and began the construction of a Mediterranean style city built in its place.

The site of Templo Mayor quickly fell to nothing more than memory as the Spanish and later Mexican governments continued to build atop the site. It would remain mostly forgotten until its rediscovery in 1978.

Templo Mayor Museum

Templo Mayor Museum Entrance

We entered the museum, not knowing what to expect. We had thought it would be rather small – but we were wrong. The museum is rather large, although compact, and is very well curated. You can easily dedicate 2 – 3 hours wandering it’s four floors and eight exhibition rooms. It even has a small gift shop.

Room 1: Historical Background

This room provides an overview of the history of the site and it’s discovery.

Tlaltecuhtuli monolith on display at Templo Mayor Museum
Model of Zocala Square and Templo Mayor

Room 2: War and Sacrifice

This room showcases artifacts relating to the violence of the Aztecs. Funerary offerings, skulls, and weapons adorn the room.

Skulls and Bones at Templo Mayor
Stone Carved Skulls at Templo Mayor Museum

The fired clay statue of Mictlantecuhtli shows the god of the underworld with his liver hanging out and skin removed.

Mictlantecuhtli statue recovered from the ruins of Templo Mayor

Room 3: Tribute and Trade

This room covers the important role of trade and commerce throughout the Aztec Empire. Merchants were extremely important in the Mexica culture. They would often serve as communication links between cities, and assault of a merchant was seen as an act of war.

Aztec ceremonial mask found at Templo Mayor

Room 4: Huitzilopochtli

This room is dedicated to the god Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and human sacrifice.

Huitzilopochtli statue recovered at Templo Mayor

Room 5: Tlaloc

This room is showcases the god Tlaloc, the god of water. It was believed that rain was the result of breaking pots in the heavens. The shattering of ceramic was believed to be the sound we know as thunder.

Room 6: Flora and Fauna

Animals and plants were an important part of Aztec and Mexica life. This room covers the different species of importance in the cultures of the regions including: jaguars, dogs, eagles, crocodiles, and hummingbirds.

XOLOITZCUINTLI taxidermy dog at Templo Mayor

Room 7: Agriculture

Part of the success of the Tenochtitlan was the innovative agricultural practices. The city was built on a lake, and food was grown on chinampas. Chinampas were floating platforms built of reed, wood, and filled with soil.

Important plants grown were:

  • Maize
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Chili
  • Tomato
  • Amaranth

Room 8: Historical Archeology

The final room documents the colonial times of city, and it’s transition from Aztec to Spanish to Mexican.

Each room had an interactive video display. However, most were not working when we went – much to the dismay of a security guard.

Interactive Templo Mayor Museum Display

Returning to the Ruins, with New Understandings

After completing our long run through the museum, we returned to the ruins outside. With a now far greater understanding of the site, we could now better appreciate what we were looking at.

Cat walk through Templo Mayor Ruins

Most of the ruins remain open to the elements. But a few sections have permanent roofs. These sections contain important relics or areas such as rooms.

The walkways in this area are far longer and more extensive than the initial ones. As well, they get lower, so you can start to get a better scale of what it was like to walk among the temples.

Chacmool at Templo Mayor Ruins
Covered Ruins of Red Room at Templo Mayor
Carved Snake Head and Eagle at Templo Mayor

After many hours, we made our way out of Templo Mayor. If you didn’t leave anything at the entrance then you can simply exit through the main exit – otherwise, just backtrack to the entrance to gather your things!

Carved Snake head at Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor Ruins with Metropolitan Cathedral in Background

Teotihuacan – The Massive Pyramids of Mexico City

The number one thing that I wanted to see and do while in Mexico City, was to visit Teotihuacan.  Massive pyramids of stone standing in the highlands just north of the capital – these behemoths are the largest in the world that you can climb.

Getting to Teotihuacan

There are many different ways to get to the pyramids at Teotihuacan. The method you choose should reflect what you wanting to get out of the experience and how much of a budget you are on. They are about 25 miles north of Mexico City, so you can’t simply walk there.

  • To beat the crowds, be sure to arrive early. This means that you will have the option of using your own car, a taxi, or an Uber.
  • If you are less concerned about arriving early in the day, you can take public transportation to Autobuses del Norte station, where you can then take a comfortable bus ride to the pyramids.
  • If you want it easy, and you don’t care too much about price – you can take a guided tour, where you will be picked up from your hotel and have everything arranged for you.

Driving North

After seeing a few videos and pictures of incredibly big crowds at Teotihuacan, we decided that we should get in early. Briana also read somewhere that you could catch the site of hot air balloons if you got there before the park opens (unfortunately this didn’t end up working out for us). We didn’t trust trying to take a taxi, so we took an Uber. This is where I made our first mistake – which you should avoid. You should be sure to put in the address as:

55800 Teotihuacan, State of Mexico, Mexico

And if you have the option, further specify the pyramids and try to get to Gate 2. There are 3 Gates you can enter at.

We began by grabbing some water from a local convenience store and then grabbing an Uber.

I Made a Mistake

I did not put in the correct address. Upon ordering our Uber, I simply put in Teotihuacan – which is a city north of Mexico City, but not the pyramids. This led to some confusion later on. Our driver picked us up around 8 in the morning and away we went. They did take quite a while to arrive (around thirty minutes), though, which delayed us to the point that we wished we had just taken the bus or slept in a little more instead. Our path meandered through the primary roads of the capital but soon gave way to rough streets and tiny villages.

I thought we might be lost, but signs for the pyramids kept appearing, so I assumed we were on the right track. It was taking much longer than it should have though. Finally, in the middle of an alley way, the driver stops and says we’ve arrived.

There was an obvious problem, but within a few minutes, and a quick talk with a local police officer, we managed to find our way to the pyramids. Sadly, what should have been a $25 – $30 USD Uber ride became a ~$60 USD ride due to my incorrect routing. Briana’s dad graciously picked up the tab.

We got in a little late, but ultimately, it turned out fine. Just be sure to specify exactly where you want to go!

Arriving at Teotihuacan

We arrived later than we intended due to both issues with Uber, but the site was still pretty empty. We made our way up the road from Gate 2, which faces the the Pyramid of the Sun. Entrance to the ruins costs $70 Pesos (~$4 USD), which is really cheap compared to most sites of such grand scale.

After passing the ticket booth, there is a road that leads towards the main area – lined with vendors. Most of the vendors where not active yet. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the venders weren’t as pushy as we’d read – a simple “no gracias” was all it took to be left alone.

The enormous compound consists of four main parts:

  • The Pyramid of the Sun
  • The Pyramid of the Moon
  • The Avenue of the Dead
  • Cuidadela / Feathered Serpent Pyramid

It is oriented where the Pyramid of the Moon is on the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead, with the Pyramid of the Sun on the eastern side of the Avenue of the Dead halfway down, and the Cuidadela / Feathered Serpent Pyramid on the south end of the mile and half long Avenue of the Dead.

Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. It is impossible to miss, as it stands at 216 feet tall, and 760 feet wide. It is also the largest pyramid in the world that you can climb.

Briana in front of the Pyramid of the Sun

We approached it in the cool morning air, and began our ascent. It looks big from afar, but you can’t really grasp just how big it is until you begin to climb it. It just keeps going up, and you can’t see the summit. As you go, you get winded and hear the sound of jaguar and eagle whistles from the vendors below.

Pyramid of the Sun

Briana ascending the the Pyramid of the Sun

Luckily, the pyramid is stepped, so there are multiple places to take a rest and look back on how high you’ve climbed. There are rails to assit you up and down – but the friendly stray dogs don’t seem to need them.

Stray Dog on the Pyramid of the Sun Stairs

Upon arriving to the summit, you’re given an awesome view of the surrounding plains, mountains, and site. We stayed at the summit for close to a half-hour, just admiring the views before continuing down.

Kyle with a local stray overlooking Pyramid of the Moon
Kyle and Briana atop the Pyramid of the Sun
Briana and her father atop Teotihuacan
Briana descending the Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Moon

The Pyramid of the Moon is on the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead and has it’s own plaza, surrounded by numerous smaller temple mounts.

View of the Pyramid of the Moon

Although not as tall, the Pyramid of the Moon is still huge. The steps to to the first platform are also far steeper than any others at Teotihuacan. We climbed to the platform and then rested there for a while. We enjoyed the sites and views before moving on. You can’t climb to the summit here though, because the top is more in ruins than the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

Briana Climbing the Pyramid of the Moon
Briana atop the Pyramid of the Moon looking towards the Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Moon Teotihuacan

It should also be noted, that you should wear plenty of sunscreen. At over 7,000 feet elevation and a lower latitude, exposure to the sun is more intense and sunburn happens quick – as we figured out. We quickly applied some sunscreen, but too late. We continued for the rest of the day to use an umbrella and wear jackets to shade ourselves as much as possible.

Briana exploring a temple along the avenue of the dead at Teotihuacan

Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl

On the west side of the Plaza of the Moon lies the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl. Although smaller, be sure not to miss it. The area consists of two parts: the upper and lower areas.

The lower area contains some well-preserved murals of jaguars and altar spaces. There is also a temple that is underneath the Palace. In this area, you can see a great mural of a feathered serpent.

Underground temple at Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
Briana and Father at Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
Original Mural at Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl

The upper area consists primarily of ruins. However, there is a well preserved courtyard of Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl that contains many columns with great relief carvings.

Entrance to Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
Restored Wall at Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
Relief Carvings in the Courtyard of Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
Courtyard of Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl

Just outside the palace is Gate 1. You can enter / exit the site here, or you can check out the numerous vendor stalls. Here we picked up some banana chips to satiate our hunger until we returned to the city or got food and a few affordable souvenirs.

Shops Along Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan

History of Teotihuacan

The structure of Teotihuacan is that of a planned city complex. At it’s height, it is estimated to have been the home to around 200,000 citizens. Construction began sometime between 50 and 500 CE.

View of the Sun from the Moon

Residence Ruins at Teotihuacan

The pyramids were constructed sometime between 200 and 250 CE. The complex as a whole consists of 15 massive pyramids along the Avenue of the Dead.

Unlike today, the tops of the pyramids were only ever visited by royalty, priests, and sacrifices. The Teotihuacans practiced extensive human sacrifice – as did much of the region – and would kill prisoners of war, citizens, and children to appease the gods.

Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan

The methods were brutal and bloody. Decapitation, crushing, removing the heart – the methods were extreme. Thankfully, these are no longer practiced today.

When the Aztecs arrived in the 1300s, Teotihuacan was already in ruins. The original names of the site have been lost, but we now know them by way of the Aztecs. They believed that this was the birth place of the gods.

Calidad de los Muertos

The Avenue of the Dead stretches the entire length of Teotihuacan, and consists a project just as massive an undertaking as the the pyramids themselves. The avenue diverts the San Juan river, which allowed for better irrigation and water control.

Along the entire length, are great plazas, temple mounts, temples and pyramids. The walk takes a long time to make your way through, considering the up and down nature of climbing the many steps.

Avenue of the Dead Field Teotihuacan
Avenue of the Dead Field

The Avenue of the Dead also provides ample opportunity to see old ruins, newer constructions, and reconstructions. Here is a preserved mural of a puma.

Puma Mural

This pyramid had a temple built atop it.

Old Temple Construction at the Avenue of the Dead Teotihuacan

You can tell what has been reconstructed by the look of the buildings. Reconstructed buildings have stone that was found on site, brought together with a local motar, with small black volcanic rocks in the mortar between the stone. It creates a nice look that also helps you to easily identify what is original.

Restored Ruins Example
Restored Temple Platform

La Ciudadela and the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent

After a very long hike along the Avenue of the Dead, we finally arrived at the last of the primary sites for the day. The Ciudadela is a massive plaza that consists a field of grass surrounded on all sides by low temple mount constructions.

Briana at the Cuidadela
Central View of the Cuidadela at Teotihuacan
Cuidadela Teotihuacan Side

On the far side of the plaza rests one last pyramid – or rather two. At this point, Briana and her dad decided they didn’t want to climb the pyramid as we’d already walked and climbed so much. I decided that I wanted to check it out anyways.

So I climbed the pyramid and found that on the other side of the pyramid was yet another. So I descended the pyramid and came across the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. This pyramid was far shorter than the others, but much more exquisitely decorated. Numerous carved heads of serpents lined the walls and stairs.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent
Feathered Serpent Detail

The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent was used specifically in the sacrifice of children.

Other Notables at Teotihuacan

Across from the Cuidadela is Gate 1. Gate 1 has a small visitors center and restaurant that you can visit. However, the prices are very much tourist prices, and if you have the patience you can get a better and more affordable meal back in Mexico City.

Teotihuacan Vistor Center and Restaurant

There is also an on-site museum on the south side of the Pyramid of the Sun. We didn’t visit because we were very tired – we had been trekking around the area for around 6 – 7 hrs by this point and were a bit hungry and eager to get back with our worsening sun burns – and we had just had a good look at the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Anthropology Museum the day before.

It is also worth noting that the weather can be temperamental. When we arrived, the temperature was around 60F, but when the sun came out it would shoot up into the mid 80s within a couple minutes. At such a high elevation, the weather can change quite quickly. We were also lucky to be arriving at the end of the rainy season when everything was green.

Getting Back to Mexico City

There is a bus that arrives every fifteen minutes at Gate 2 that goes back to Mexico City to the Autobuses del Norte station. A round trip will cost $100 Pesos or $50 Pesos each way.

Waiting for the bus to arrive at Teotihuacan

We found the bus ride to be pretty enjoyable overall. Although it was crowded at first, a few people got off and we were able to get seats shortly. We were then treated to a better view of the north side of Mexico City.

On The Bus to Mexico City

The ride took a little over an hour to get to the bus station – which does not have good food. Along the way, police came on board to document who all was on board. This may happen, and it’s a simple safety precaution – nothing to be worried about.

All in all, Teotihuacan is an awesome experience that you should not miss on your visit to Mexico City.

Avenue of the Dead Ruins

~K~

View of Silicon Valley from Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple San Jose California

Visit Sikh Gurdwara Sahib Temple in San Jose

The city of San Jose, California has many hidden gems within the valley. Often overshadowed by it’s neighbor San Francisco, some of the great places can become ignored. What this really means though, is that you can have a more intimate experience where you won’t be beleaguered by tourists. We recently stumbled upon the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib Temple, and it is fantastic.

A Sikh Temple Overlooking the Silicon Valley

First and foremost, one should note that Gurdwara Sahib is an active Sikh temple. It was founded in 1985 by the then growing Sikh community. In 1995, leaders bought land outside of the city to begin construction of what would become the largest Gurdwara in North America at 90,000 sq ft.

Kyle and Briana in front of Gurdwara Sahib

Visiting Gurdwara Sahib

We really had no idea about the temple. Briana managed to stumble upon it as a picture on the internet, and instantly our thoughts were, “We have to go there.” With a little research, we soon knew what we needed to know.

The temple stands above the valley, about halfway up a mountain at 3636 Murillo Ave San Jose , CA 95148.

The drive is simple enough to make, and the temple is so prominent that you cannot miss it when you pass by.

Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple

There is plenty of parking, and unless you are visiting during a morning prayer, you should have no difficulty finding a spot.

Enter Gurdwara Sahib, a Place of Worship

At first, we weren’t really sure how to go about visiting. We enjoyed the front fountain and the views of Silicon Valley before us. This spot is a great selfie-spot, and attracts many people. Luckily, the friendliness of the families and worshippers quickly made us feel comfortable enough to proceed in.

Briana posing by the fountain
Fountain view of Silicon Valley

The front building is where you should enter. In here you will find a place to store your shoes, divided into men’s and women’s areas. I wasn’t aware of this, and actually stored my shoes in the women’s section – luckily it didn’t seem to be a big deal.

Shoe locker in Gurdwara Sahib

Then, we took the fresh linens called rumaals provided to cover our hair. Both men and women are expected to cover their heads. Men wear a turban, while women wear it as a shawl. But as a visitor, the only important thing here, is to do your best and cover it. If you aren’t sure, there should be an attendant or someone who will help you.

Covering up for Gurdwara Sahib

As well, there is a poster on the walls that will instruct you on exactly what you need to know.

Gurdwara Sahib Instructional Poster

Be aware that you should dress conservatively here. Wearing pants, and covering up your shoulders and knees should be fine though. We saw a few people who were wearing shorts, but you should err on the side of respect.

Interior of the entry hall at Gurdwara Sahib San Jose

Chants and Songs of Praise

We then proceeded through the back doors of the front building, leading to a covered walkway lined with flowers, that brought us to the main prayer hall. The prayer hall is huge. Upon opening the doors, you are greeted to the welcoming, yet completely foreign sound of Punjabi singing.

Flowers at Gurdwara Sahib
Prayer Hall of Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple San Jose

Sitting down, you find that the floor provides you with the softest carpet. It’s very easy to simply sit and listen here. On the wall opposite the entrance, there are large projection screens that show what is being sung with English translation. It is a nice touch that provides context to visitors such as us who have no clue to what is going on.

Who are Sikhs?

Sikhs are followers of the Sikh faith based on the teachings of Guru Nanak. The faith is a relatively recent religion that developed out of persecution in the Punjab region of what is today northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan around 1520 CE.

The Travels of Guru Nanak

Sikhs believe in one God, who is omnipresent. They are very tolerant of other religions, with a basic belief that all religions are worshipping the same God, just through different interpretations. The important emphasis is to have a union with God, to provide service to the community, and to promote justice and equality.

The Three Pillars of Sikhism

Of course, this is only an incredibly brief summation.For the curious, check out a far more in depth explanation here. Or, ask a Sikh! San Jose is home to a very large Sikh population, many of whom will be glad to provide further insight.

Quick Facts:

  • 5th largest religion in the world
  • Sikhs have been in the United States for 100 years
  • 99% of all people wearing turbans are Sikh
  • 700K Sikhs live in the United States
  • 25 million Sikhs practice world wide

View through the arch

Familial Hospitality and Delicious Food at the Langar Hall

Now I must admit, that a significant reason why I wanted to visit Gurdwara Sahib was the Langar Hall. What is the Langar Hall? It’s the food hall. Present at all Gurdwaras, Langar Halls provide food to anyone who visits, free of charge.

We exited the prayer room after listening for about twenty minutes. In the back right of the complex is another large room – the Langar Hall. You grab a metal tray, get in line, and get served absolutely delicious food.

Interior of Langar Hall Gurdwara Sahib

As per the religion, the food is vegetarian. It is also traditionally Punjabi. For those unfamiliar with what that means, it’s simply Indian food that you are most likely familiar with – with the exception of chicken tikka, that is actually British. We were served a thali set of Aloo Matar, curried beans, roti, rice pudding, and a sour yogurt curry I can’t identify. It was incredibly delicious and filling.

Thali Plate in the Langar Hall

Now, while the food is free – we suggest that you leave a donation in the donation box as we did. We feel that the Sikh community is very humble, and expected nothing of us, while offering us extraordinary hospitality – the least we could do was donate. Another option, is that you can volunteer to serve there as well.

We sat on carpets on the floor to eat. Ultimately, we were welcomed to the temple and we truly enjoyed the experience and the food. The food does change day to day, so we cannot tell you what you will get when you visit. Just be sure not to take more than you can eat.

Langar Hall Dining Carpet

Closing Sunset

We made our way out of the temple just as the sun was beginning to set. This was Briana’s primary desire for visiting. As we had seen before when we arrived, the fountain overlook provided for excellent views.

Sikhs watching the sunset
Looking towards home
Briana Looking over Silicon Valley
View of Silicon Valley and Spider

After the sun disappeared behind the Santa Cruz mountains, we made our way to the car and drove home. The Gurdwara Sahib temple is a wonderful place to visit in San Jose.

Check their website for hours and day to day events.

~K~

Kyle wearing a bandana